Combined Scottish and Venezuelan El Sistema Orchestra Plays Caracas

Fifty-two children from Scotland’s Raploch Big Noise orchestra travelled to Caracas to practice and perform directly alongside children from Venezuela’s El Sistema youth orchestra system.


Fifty-two children from Scotland’s Raploch Big Noise orchestra travelled to Caracas to practice and perform directly alongside children from Venezuela’s El Sistema youth orchestra system. Below are images from the trip and an article written on the Big Visit by Ewan Robertson, which originally appeared in Correo del Orinoco International. All images belong to Sistema Scotland unless otherwise stated.

Correo del Orinoco International, Friday 24 January.

A Scottish children’s orchestra based on Venezuela’s El Sistema youth orchestra system has concluded a successful visit to the South American country.

Fifty-two children and twenty-four adult supervisors from the Big Noise Raploch orchestra stayed in Caracas for ten days until the end of last week.

During that time the children played a public concert with their Venezuelan counterparts, received a special music workshop with Venezuela’s world-famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and took part in cultural exchange activities such as teaching their new friends Scottish ceilidh dancing.

The trip was a year in the planning, and came out of an invitation made to Big Noise by El Sistema founder Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu when the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra visited the Raploch estate in Stirling in 2012.

While in Caracas Nicolas Killean, Sistema Scotland Director and CEO, said the trip had been a great experience for all involved.

“The Venezuelan welcome has been so warm and the children in the two orchestras have bonded wonderfully. Everyone is so excited to be playing the best music we can, here in the home of El Sistema which has been such an inspiration to us, she said.

Killean continued, “We are proud to be playing for Scotland and representing Raploch and Stirling so far away from home. We work to make sure Big Noise is a life changing experience from week to week, but weeks like this one are particularly special”.

On Tuesday 14 January the children from Big Noise Raploch played a concert alongside Venezuelan children from the Montalbán Children’s Symphony Orchestra in the National Centre for Social Action through Music.

The Montalbán orchestra was directed by Ramón Poleo, who told Correo del Orinoco that the orchestra’s kids had been very excited at the prospect of meeting their fellows from Scotland. At the same time, some had been nervous about communicating with children who spoke a different language from their own.

“I’ve told them that the great thing about music is that through it you can play, share and enjoy without necessarily needing to strike up a conversation,” said Poleo before the two orchestras practiced together.

Before their concert, the Scottish participants also talked of their excitement at playing in front of a Caracas audience. “Aye I’m excited about the concert today, performing my talent and givin’ it laldy! [going all out]. I like the Dance of the Tumblers piece; I like the wee tune in it. I’m not nervous for the concert, think I’d better get used to it as I think I’ll be doing a lot more!” said Brandon Gardiner, aged 13.

Venezuela’s El Sistema youth orchestra system was set up in 1975 by Maestro Abreu. It now has 685 infant, child and youth orchestras and brings over 400,000 children and youths to the study of classical music, 75% of them from poor backgrounds. Its methodology is considered very beneficial to child development and combating social problems such as crime and social exclusion.

El Sistema is run by the Simon Bolivar Musical Foundation, which is overseen by the Office of the Venezuelan Presidency. The youth orchestra system has received great support and funding from the Bolivarian government. Last May President Nicolas Maduro and Maestro Abreu discussed plans to expand El Sistema to include one million children and youths.

The model has captured the imaginations of musical education specialists around the globe, and El Sistema orchestras have been established in 35 countries.

El Sistema Scotland was set up in 2008 in Raploch, Stirling, after Richard Holloway, an ex-charman of the Scottish Arts Council, was “converted” by El Sistema’s methodology. The Raploch estate was considered a deprived community undergoing a significant social regeneration project at the time.

Raploch’s Big Noise orchestra now involves 450 children, has its patron is Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Another El Sistem orchestra was set up last year in Govanhill, Glasgow. Further groups are expected to be formed in the country, such as in the northern city of Aberdeen.