In Venezuela the government pays for every child to have free music tuition and an instrument. After 34 years in operation 'El Sistema', as the system is simply called, has resulted in a quarter of a million children - many from the poorest backgrounds - to be connected with classical music. The best players make up the Simon Bolivar Orchestra who are in residence at the South Bank Centre this week.
I heard them at the Proms last year and, along with many others, was bowled over by their enthusiasm for the music, their energy, their sense of fun and joy, and their dedication. It's not enough to simply hear them - you have to see them, swaying in time to the music and twirling their instruments in the South American numbers. But it's their dedication to music that really makes the difference. One of the players last night said that he was up at 5 am practising - and that is fairly typical. I guess that for may of these young people music has literally rescued them from a life of hopeless poverty.
There's talk of the UK introducing the system here, but I somehow doubt if the government has the guts to introduce something so culturally challenging. To get children away from their computer games, Wii, Play Station etc, and practice for an hour before school, and again when they come back...It's the only way to succeed, and perhaps this young Venezuelan orchestra might inspire them.
Ken Livingstone was derided for his fawning attempt to be buddies with the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and his deal to get cheap Venezuelan oil for London Transport. I hope, though, the UK might benefit from looking at 'El Sistema' and consider introducing it here. There is no doubt that children and young people can benefit socially, intellectually, culturally and even physically...and perhaps spiritually... by connecting with and performing good classical music.