The world’s music man dead at 78

There are a lot worse things that can appear in an obituary than “he changed kids’ lives.”

Jose Antonio Abreu, who took the kids from Venezuela’s shanty towns and taught them how to be world-class musicians, changed kids’ lives. He died on Saturday.

By taking children off the street and putting instruments in their hands, he tried to keep them away from drugs and gangs. In the process, he created a national orchestra and gave children a future.

“My heart is overwhelmed,” said renowned conductor and director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel. “The music and arts have lost one of its brightest figures. Maestro José Antonio Abreu taught us that art is a universal right and that inspiration and beauty irreversibly transform the soul of a child…. I am who I am today [because of him] and I owe it to Maestro Abreu’s generosity, humanity and vision. I feel an immense privilege to have shared a life next to someone of his dimension.”

Abreu’s idea spread around the world, including Minnesota.

Abreu started El Sistema in 1975 in a parking garage with 11 students.

Related: Let the children play (American Public Media)

  • John O.

    Sadly, orchestra is often the first program to go when the school budget takes a turn for the worse. I started playing violin in 4th grade and was asked to transition to the viola in junior high and played all the way through high school. 90 percent of my music collection on my mobile is classical.

    • Erick

      As noted in this space last week, the Winona public school board is set to gut music, arts and theater programs. It is a sad coda to Abreu’s work and life.

    • jon

      In jr. high the school board came to slash spending.

      The band and orchestra parents turned out enmasse to the PTA and school board meetings, and made it clear, that they should instead cut sports…

      In the end my jr. high had no sports as extracurricular activities, but a moderately well funded orchestra, band, and choir (not that a choir needs much funding).