Venezuela music project helps low-income kids even before birth

Mon Oct 13, 2014 5:03pm EDT
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By Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - When Adan Bello was born in Caracas, he barely cried.

Then the Venezuelan baby's blinking eyes turned towards the calm melody of a duo of harpists playing Brahms' "Cradle Song" in the corner of a public hospital's maternity wing.

Minutes later, his mother received a certificate signing Adan up for Venezuela's hugely successful classical music program, known as "El Sistema" (The System).

Adan was given a tiny replica violin.

The state-run System has since its inception in 1975 trained 2.5 million youngsters, mostly from low-income backgrounds, including Gustavo Dudamel, the renowned conductor of The Los Angeles Philharmonic.

"A child who takes up a musical instrument is a child who will never raise a weapon," said Leonardo Mendez, coordinator of The System's latest "New Members" initiative.

In a nation awash with guns and with one of the world's highest murder rates, The System has for decades sought to counteract poor children's exposure to violence with the gentle and inspiring influence of classical music.

It used to only admit children aged at least 5. But under its latest "New Members" projects, hundreds of smaller infants can receive voice lessons, musical initiation with paper-made instruments, and free concerts, at its base in Caracas.   Continued...

A member of "El Sistema" plays on a harp, as part of its "New Members" program, next to a newborn baby at a public maternity hospital in Caracas October 1, 2014.  REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins