Venezuela’s El Sistema Attempts ‘Largest Orchestra’ Guinness World Record

Over 12,000 young musicians played Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave simultaneously in Caracas.


Mérida, November 15, 2021 ( – The Simón Bolívar System of Youth Symphonic Orchestras and Choirs has held a concert with a massive 12,067 musicians in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest orchestra.

The Venezuelan youths played Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave at Caracas’ Military Academy on Saturday under the supervision of 250 international observers and accounting giant KPMG, which will audit the results.

Guinness World Records authorities have ten days to decide if the effort broke the current record set in 2019 when 8,097 musicians played the Russian national anthem in Saint Petersburg.

“It is a gigantic challenge, of course, a very complicated challenge, but [one] full of great pride, of great passion,” main orchestra conductor Andrés Ascanio said. Ascanio went on to remind those present that “what we are seeing here is a minimal representation of what we are: We are 1,012,000 children and youths in El Sistema,” as the System of Youth Symphonic Orchestras and Choirs is commonly known.

For her part, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, who witnessed the attempt alongside a host of other government officials, told the young musicians that “This orchestra of Venezuelans is once again talking to the world. Today Venezuela is celebrating, not just we who are in the country but also those who have emigrated and feel so proud to be Venezuelan. Go make history!”

Apart from the ten-minute Tchaikovsky symphonic poem, which was the attempted record-breaking display, the young musicians and singers, who had been rehearsing for over two months, played seven other pieces. The nationally televised repertoire included popular Venezuelan songs Venezuela and Alma Llanera by Pablo Herrero and Jose Luis Armenteros, and Pedro Gutierrez, respectively, as well as the country’s national anthem Gloria al Bravo Pueblo (Glory to the Ferocious People).

At the event, 15-year-old viola player Angele Barraoeta explained that she felt overwhelmed by the number of musicians present.

“[There are] so many people around you. It’s an incredible feeling to be part of something historic. We hope to break the record (…) all those hours of rehearsing and all those hours of practicing, which were many, were worth it,” she told reporters.

Apart from their Covid-19 facemasks, each musician had to wear a numbered bracelet to facilitate counting, and the concert included orchestra delegations from all of Venezuela’s regions. Many had traveled all night in free buses organized for the event.

El Sistema was founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu to offer free music tuition to children in popular areas. The program’s scope was greatly expanded with increased backing and funding by the Hugo Chávez governments between 1998 and 2013, going on to receive dozens of international awards and even being featured in the prize-winning 2003 Tocar y Luchar (To Play and To Struggle) documentary named after El Sistema’s motto. Its most important grouping, the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra, has played in nearly all of the world’s most acclaimed music halls, including London, New York and Moscow. High-profile musicians and conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel passed through the program before going on to play in international venues.

Most recently, the program has been amplified to include subsidized instrument construction and repair factories and continues to receive notable public funding. It currently boasts over one million young musicians, mostly from the country’s poorest communities and organized into around 280 local hubs. Its numerous disabled groupings, including the White Hands Choir of sign-language singers, have won widespread international recognition.

El Sistema hubs have also been set up as far afield as Japan and Scotland, and over 25 other countries have replicated its methodology of using music to transfer qualities such as teamwork and discipline to other walks of life. Statistics have shown Venezuelan communities with a functioning orchestra or choir to have measurable social progress in terms of crime, poverty or drug use reduction.

The program’s mission claims to include “pedagogical occupation and ethical recovery through instruction and collective practice of music, dedicated to training, prevention, and recuperation of the most vulnerable sectors of the country.”

[On September 20, Guinness World Records officially announced that it had successfully validated Venezuela’s bid and granted the world record to the Caribbean country.]