El Sistema

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Founded: 2009

Mission: El Sistema is a visionary global movement that transforms the lives of children through music; it is a new model for social change. El Sistema USA is a support and advocacy network for people and organizations inspired by Venezuela’s monumental music education program. It will grow to provide comprehensive information on the El Sistema philosophy and methodology, and host a variety of resources that will aid those building, expanding and supporting El Sistema programs in the US and beyond.

Boston, MA


Mark Churchill
Educator, conductor, and cellist Mark Churchill is Dean Emeritus of New England Conservatory’s Department of Preparatory and Continuing Education, which he led for 31 years. He currently serves as director of El Sistema USA, the advocacy and service organization for American programs that emulate the renowned Venezuelan model of social development through music. During his leadership of the Preparatory School, the program became known as one of the best of its kind in the nation, emphasizing serious, professional training for the pre-college student in addition to numerous community based programs and local, national, and international partnerships. Churchill has been an active advocate for the improvement and expansion of music education programs in American schools. He is the founder and vice president of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, established in 2002, which draws gifted young musicians from throughout North and South America. For eleven years he served as Resident Conductor and Faculty Chairman of the Asian Youth Orchestra in Hong Kong, a pan-Asian organization founded by the late Sir Yehudi Menuhin. Churchill is widely known in New England and abroad. He has been Associate Conductor of the Boston Ballet since 1992, and is the founder and Music Director of Symphony Pro Musica, Worcester's Salisbury Lyric Opera, and the Salisbury Chamber Orchestra. He recently led the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra in its annual gala concert. In 2005, Churchill spearheaded the signing of the "Friendship Agreement" between New England Conservatory and Venezuela's massive El Sistema youth orchestral training program--planting the seeds for NEC's close relationship to that program. He serves on the boards of a number of non-profit organizations including Project STEP, a pre-professional support program for string students of color; the Conservatory Lab Charter School, a K-5 public inner-city elementary school offering a music based curriculum; the Walnut Hill School, an independent school for serious high school age art students; the Berkshire Institute for Theology and the Arts; and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. As a cellist Churchill has appeared as soloist, recitalist and chamber music player throughout the United States and on tours of South America and Asia. Most recently he performed in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taiwan with the Trio Pro Musica.  Churchill was married to violinist and educator, the late Marylou Speaker Churchill. He resides in Newton, Massachusetts, with their twin daughters.

Innovative Approach


There are many underserved children throughout the country, and music education has a unique ability to transform their life trajectory and positively impact their community.

Innovation / New Solution

El Sistema is a tested model of how a music program can both create great musicians and dramatically change the life trajectory of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s neediest kids. Organizations and schools around the country are eager to become part of the El Sistema movement and understand how they can build their music programs based on the El Sistema model. El Sistema USA discovers new efforts and impassioned individuals who want to join the national movement almost daily. The Abreu Fellows Program at New England Conservatory provides tuition-free training for outstanding young postgraduate musicians, “passionate for their art and for social justice,” who seek to guide the development of El Sistema programs in the U.S. and beyond. The curriculum provides the Abreu Fellows with in-depth knowledge of the mission and musical methodology of the El Sistema vision, in addition to practical skills in leadership, communication, cultural understanding, behavioral management, organizational development, fundraising and working with underserved and at-risk youth and communities. In addition, Fellows’ skills as “teaching artists” will be developed through study, observation and coaching.


Programs inspired by Venezuela’s music miracle already exist in many U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, LA, New York, Pasadena and San Antonio. The first initiative of El Sistema USA is a one-year postgraduate certificate program for accomplished young musicians and music educators who desire to become ambassadors of El Sistema and who are committed to developing the music education miracle outside of Venezuela. Housed at New England Conservatory, Abreu Fellows will spend a year studying between Boston and Caracas, and leave with the tools to return to their communities to implement the El Sistema model. They have chosen ten fellows to participate in the 2009/2010 program. The 2010 Directory Project is El Sistema USA’s first effort to begin to collect national data that will provide important insight into the El Sistema movement as it exists in the USA.


Expert Comments

  • This organization is taking the amazing success of its namesake in Venezuela and adapting it to the USA. El Sistema is raising the level of awareness of what is possible - especially for at risk youth - and is serving to inspire the public about the place of music education in civilizing a society.

  • El Sistema (a Venezuelan program that works for social change through music) has inspired an incredible number of people in the United States to work for change through music education. This could really have a large-scale impact in the years to come by increasing the amount of music education available to children.

From the Nonprofit

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Key Endorsements

  • Placido Domingo
  • New England Conservatory
  • TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design)
  • Quincy Jones MusiQ Consortium
  • League of American Orchestras

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