I attended the honor band concert tonight. It was especially good this year. The high school band played with power and enthusiasm. The middle school honor band was the largest band to date -- 150 musicians. I am forever impressed with the quality and dedication of music teachers instructing in the public schools.
At these concerts statistics are often shared with parents such as the studies that indicate participation in the arts improves academic performance. Sharing these statistics with the parents in attendance is as effective as "preaching to the choir". Tonight however a different statistic was shared.
Generally it is accepted that only 40 percent of band/orchestra students continue musical studies through their senior year of high school. The number has decreased over the past few years. This year the percentage of students participating in band and orchestra through 12th grade dropped to 8 percent. Yikes.
Contrast this with El Systema in Venezuela. El Systema was started about 30 years ago by José Antonio Abreu . Over 250,000 children participate in the privately funded music training program. The program is free (including instrument) for students. Students audition for enrollment, and parents must commit to support participation and attend concerts. In this way, not only do students develop musical skills, but communities develop deep music appreciation. The 125 youth orchestras and 30 symphony orchestras are leveled. The opportunity to audition for better more prestigious orchestras encourages students to practice and improve.
El Systema has been an effective tool to promote community and national pride as well as reduce truant and gang related activity among youth. The youth orchestras of Venezuela are national and international stars.
Now if only we could figure out a way to build and maintain that kind of enthusiasm in America's youth.