El Sistema Oklahoma is an orchestral music program recently created in Oklahoma City through a partnership between St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Oklahoma City University and the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. The program was brought to the forefront by St. Luke's members Phil Busey Sr. and his wife, Cathy, of Edmond, who donated funds to get the program started and running for the next several years.
The Oklahoma program is one of many across the United States inspired by and modeled after the internationally acclaimed El Sistema (The System) program begun by musician and social economist Jose Antonio Abreu in 1975 in Venezuela. Abreu started the free youth orchestra program with 11 students; over the years, it has grown to include 120 youth orchestras all across Venezuela, representing more than 400,000 children.
As part of El Sistema Oklahoma, students in third through sixth grades from six elementary schools in the Oklahoma City School District — Sequoyah, Linwood, Gatewood, Kaiser, Putnam Heights and Cleveland — are receiving free musical instruction five days a week at Trinity Baptist International Church on NW 23.
Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada, the program's executive director, said the program's goal is to form an orchestra of young musicians.
Along the way, the students will learn how to reach for their dreams and explore the possibilities of what their future could offer, he said.
Hernandez-Estrada said Abreu's El Sistema taught lessons far beyond music to children from economically disadvantaged communities in Venezuela.
“It was very ambitious to think that music could serve as an instrument of social change,” Hernandez-Estrada said. “He told them that the orchestra would change the world, and it did.”