A worldwide movement arrives in Oregon
In 1975, in the barrios on the outskirts of Caracas, a small band of determined and idealistic friends led by José Antonio Abreu gathered to improve the lives of Venezuela’s youth through the power of music. They found an abandoned garage to use as a practice space and went door to door in the surrounding slums, inviting over two hundred families to bring their children that weekend to join a new youth orchestra. It would be free and the instruments would be provided. Only eleven children showed up the first day. But the teachers persisted, passed out instruments, and began practicing with their new students until nightfall. By the next weekend, the orchestra had twenty five, and at the end of the month seventy five students were attending. An orchestra was launched and a worldwide social movement was born. The name of this movement is El Sistema.
Forty years later, El Sistema in Venezuela:
- Serves over 750,000 children annually in a national network of over 300 music centers and over 150 orchestras.
- Has documented its effectiveness at raising graduation rates, lowering mortality rates, and improving outcomes for participating youth.
- Continues to produce international stars like Gustavo Dudamel of the LA Phil and Edicson Ruiz of the Berlin Philharmonic.
- Has inspired an international movement in over 50 countries, with over 100 affiliated programs in the United States alone.
BRAVO Youth Orchestras is the first El Sistema affiliated program in Oregon.
“Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values – solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings.” – José Antonio Abreu
Bringing El Sistema to the children and families of Oregon
Planning for BRAVO Youth Orchestras began on Christmas Eve, 2011. We spent months researching existing music and youth enrichment programs in the community, and contacted leaders of the El Sistema movement in the US for advice and counsel. We visited programs in several states, met with local non-profit partners in education, arts and social service, spoke with policymakers and identified potential sources of funding. After considering a range of organizational structures and possible partnerships, our steering group decided in January 2013 to form a new non-profit to pursue a distinct dual mission of effective social service and rigorous music education. We recruited members to join our founding board of directors and began identifying candidates for key staff positions.
Founding Board President Dr. Bonnie Reagan and her husband Dr. Peter Reagan generously provided seed funding of $25,000, which leveraged a matching grant from the Vibrant Village Foundation. With these initial investments secured in March 2013, we were confident enough to commit to launching our program the following school year. BRAVO officially incorporated as a non-profit on April 17, 2013. After exploring several potential sites for our program, we chose to locate at Rosa Parks School in North Portland because of high need among the student population, strong leadership in the school, and a lack of access to music education in the neighborhood. On September 21, 2013 we held a paper violin making party and concert for the families of the first 40 students enrolled in our tuition-free After-school Program, and BRAVO Rosa Parks was officially underway.
In August 2014, we welcomed 24 new 2nd graders into our After-school Program for 60 students in grades 2-4, providing 10 hours per week (2 hrs/day, 5 days/wk) of choral singing, stringed instrument instruction, and orchestra. Our In-school Program continued to provide half-hour violin lessons twice a week to all Rosa Parks students in Kindergarten and 1st grade.
On May 23, 2014 BRAVO received our IRS determination letter as a tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation.
In the 2015-16 school year, BRAVO expanded to a second site, Cesar Chavez School (K-8), with a new woodwinds and brass program for a high-poverty school that had no music teacher for years. The In-school Program at Cesar Chavez provides one hour of music per week for all 2nd and 3rd graders. The After-school Program includes wind ensemble, choral singing, small group sectionals and music literacy for 25 students in grades 4-5 who meet 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. Total enrollment for 2015-16 in both after-school programs was 75.
In 2016-17, our fourth year, BRAVO is launching a partnership with Portland Public Schools which will help us reach two additional schools in the Roosevelt High School cluster of North Portland: George Middle School (6-8) and Sitton Elementary School (K-5). Through this partnership with PPS, BRAVO plans to provide after-school music programs at all eight Roosevelt cluster schools by about 2021. Total enrollment for all after-school programs is expected to be over 100.