One of the most exciting initiatives in educational reform today hails unexpectedly from Venezuela, where in 1975 economist, composer, and conductor Jose Antonio Abreu launched El Sistema, a free program in classical music for young children from highly impoverished backgrounds. Thirty-five years and 800,000 students later, El Sistema is the national jewel of Venezuela, a world-acclaimed program being emulated around the globe.

The idea of bringing El Sistema to North Carolina was born in the minds of three women, at nearly the same time. Lucia Powe, Kidznotes co-founder and North Carolina philanthropist was inspired by a 2008 “60 Minutes” special on the phenomenon of El Sistema. Lucia quickly told friend and child advocate Kathie Morrison about the special and discovered in her a love of Latin America and children.

kidznotes_Powe063_0063Meanwhile, Katie Wyatt, who would go on to be the founding Executive Director of Kidznotes, was inspired by El Sistema in 2005 as a violist under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel, the most famous graduate of the orchestras of El Sistema Venezuela. Driven to pursue the impact that orchestras can have in their communities, Katie became the Director of Education for the North Carolina Symphony from 2007-2009.

When El Sistema creator Maestro Abreu won the TED prize and created the Abreu Fellows program in 2009, Katie leapt at the chance. Before leaving N.C. to start her training in El Sistema, she met Lucia and Kathie for coffee. They discovered their shared passion and agreed to build El Sistema in North Carolina.

Kidznotes launched in September 2010 with 60 students at 3 Title-1 Schools in Durham. Now in its fifth year, the program serves more than 200 students in five Durham elementary schools. Kidznotes’ partnership with Durham Public Schools has been instrumental (no pun intended) in Kidznotes ability to provide after-school music programs at schools that our students already attend.

The Raleigh pilot program, which began in the fall of the 2013-14 school year has welcomed 40 Raleigh students to the Kidznotes family. Looking forward, Kidznotes hopes to have a full 100-person orchestra in both Raleigh and Durham by 2020 and 500 students enrolled in each nucleo (city).

Find out more about Kidznotes schools and instruction on our Program page.