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Help kids find values in music: El Sistema teacher

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Published : Aug. 14, 2011 - 18:51

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Susan Siman, a Venezuelan violinist, conductor and teacher of “El Sistema” said orchestral music can teach children important values that are quickly disappearing in modern society.

El Sistema, or The System, is a music education program in Venezuela dedicated to teaching juvenile delinquents and children from low-income households to play musical instruments. Together with the program founder Jose Antonio Abreu, Siman has been involved in developing El Sistema for 36 years.

To share El Sistema teaching methods, Siman visited Hwaseong and Bucheon in Gyeonggi Province last week and met with Korean music teachers and children who are under the Korean government’s program, “Orchestra of Dreams.” 
Susan Siman is one of the founders of El Sistema, the national system of youth orchestras in Venezuela. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald) Susan Siman is one of the founders of El Sistema, the national system of youth orchestras in Venezuela. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

The Korean program, modeled on El Sistema, was initiated by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Arts & Culture Education Service to provide classical music education for children from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

“I wanted to congratulate the Korean teachers and students for rediscovering important values like friendship, kindness and beauty of small things ― that are often fading away in modern society ― through the music program,” Siman told The Korea Herald.

“I bless them, although the adoption of El Sistema in Korea was a little belated.”

El Sistema teaching has been spread to the most areas of South America, Central America, the U.S., and Europe, she said, adding that she might visit China in October for the same reason although it has not been confirmed yet.

The music program in Venezuela has helped distribute musical instruments to 300,000 children in the past 35 years, since Abreu began teaching classical music to juveniles living in poverty in 1975 at a garage in the slums of Caracas.

In Korea, the Orchestra of Dreams was launched in May and youth orchestras under the program are now run in six regions of the country including Bucheon, Busan and Chuncheon.

One of the key aspects of Siman’s musical teaching for young children is to use both training and play.

“For example when teaching how to play the violin, teachers or parents should teach basic techniques just a little bit first, and immediately change the teaching method into a play to help them learn rhythms and notes with fun,” said Siman, who is currently program director of Miami Music Project Orchestral Academy. She is now involved in the development of El Sistema in the U.S. and collaborates with youth orchestra programs in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, San Antonio and Boston. Siman has also served as consultant in pre-school musical education in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Although El Sistema started teaching classical music to at-risk or poor youth, it is now open for all the children who aspire to realize their dreams.

Siman herself started receiving music education from El Sistema at age 8 when Abreu was already teaching several teenagers.

The Orchestra of Dreams program will be able to share El Sistema’s core message that orchestral music can offer a sense of belonging, responsibility and equal opportunity in music, she said.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)