Sinfonía por el Perú

Lima, Peru

El Sistema was invented in Venezuela, and is aimed at children from low-income classes. Worldwide, the success model has inspired numerous people - also in Peru, where the Hilti Foundation supports the «Sinfonía por el Perú» initiative.

Lima on a gloomy, foggy day in November. It is early morning and we are on the way to Manchay, a desert town on the southeastern edge of the Peruvian capital. We want to meet Carmen Jimena Huamán, one of the 4,000 children who are involved in the «Sinfonía por el Perú» project. The traffic is already jammed in the Peruvian capital at this early hour of the morning. Approximately 10 million people live in Lima, more and more people are leaving the rural areas to seek their fortune in the city. We are travelling through the wealthy district La Molina. High walls, barriers and checkpoints control the entry. That‘s all that one sees from the street. Then the scene changes. The dusty sandy street is in line with tin shacks and small, impoverished houses, grocery shops with lattice window bars, and workshops that use whatever still seems useable. Traders, who have arranged themselves on plastic sheets on the ground, offer what little they have for sale.

«Bienvenidos a Manchay» – welcomes us in large, colourful lettering on a supporting wall. We‘ve almost made it. The recently asphalted street does not fit with the rest of the picture. A hilly desert valley opens up in front of us; densely populated left and right with simple, one-roomed tin or wooden panel huts. Here and there a sparse plant defying the drought. The grey of the foggy sky changes to the sad grey of the stone desert, only dust and sand.
Manchay, the name is Quechua and means «fear». The area was populated in the 1980‘s, primarily with people who – driven out by the terror organisation «Shining Path» – were looking for a new home. The proximity to the city was really the only reason to settle in this inhospitable stretch of land. Meanwhile, between 60,000 and 80,000 people live here, around 50 % of them in complete poverty. Poor means: the income is below 15 Euros per month. Only 10 % of the population have a regular income, the unemployment rates have reached 35 %. Increasing juvenile delinquency and the formation of gangs are the result.

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«Ideal» preconditions therefore in which to open a «núcleos», a music school of the «Sinfonía por el Perú» organisation, with the aim of being present in the difficult areas of the country and, through music, to contribute to improving the living conditions of children and youths, as well as their families.
We arrive at Carmen‘s house. She has already packed her schoolbooks, says goodbye to her mother and younger brother, and leaves for school. The family lives in a small wooden house consisting of two rooms built next to each other. Everything is clean and orderly, there is electricity in the house, a computer and a television. Carmen‘s father has a job – he is self-employed in the advertising business. The mother can therefore stay at home and look after the family.
To reach Carmen‘s school she has to walk down a new flight of concrete steps descending towards the valley. She passes a large gateway, which serves to control entry to the district and ensure that only the district’s residents have access. A measure that has become necessary because the crime rate is constantly increasing.
The girl has a long day ahead of her. School starts before eight o‘clock and lasts, for the most part, until the early afternoon. After that, the whole class eats in the school cafeteria and afterwards Carmen goes to the music school located in the adjoining «Virgen del Rosario» convent. Of the more than 1,500 children in the school, about 10% registered when «Sinfonía por el Perú» began in Manchay.

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Canto, toco, crezco
Manchay was one of the first núcleos in the programme that the Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, the country‘s most important cultural ambassador, founded in 2011. Inspired by the Venezuelan «El Sistema», Flórez seized the initiative. He also wanted to mediate constructive values via music to the children and youths of his country and thereby inspire them to experience communal life by playing in an orchestra and ensembles, as well as strengthening their feeling of self-esteem. «Canto, toco, crezco» – «I sing, play, and grow» is the guiding principle of «Sinfonía por el Perú». A higher quality standard at all levels is the linking element of the current 20 music schools, which are spread across the country and are confronted with very different parameters and challenges. Thanks to the methodology of playing together in orchestras and ensembles, local needs can be taken into consideration and can thus reach a large number of children and youths.
Flórez, who, in spite of his tight schedule, monitors the programme intensively and critically. He is well aware of the significance of quality in such initiatives. Even more so, because the quality of the school system in Peru has successively decreased over the past decades.

The children must be challenged and Flórez, with his world career, is naturally their greatest role model. A visit at the “núcleo from Juan Diego, as they all call him amicably, is celebrated like a festival”, not only by the musicians but also by their classmates, parents, and the whole family. His visits motivate the children and one feels that they want to prove themselves when playing and show what they have learnt.
«You have to take care of your ears, protect your hearing. Put cotton wool in them if you sit near the brass section», the musicians of the Youth Orchestra of Manchay are warned by Flórez. «Look at the conductor, not at me. Concentrate and don‘t let yourselves be distracted. That will make professional musicians out of you.»
He‘s an idol one can touch. The children cling closely to him on the way to the large school courtyard where half the district has gathered. Selfies, photos, short films – everyone wants to document their closeness. «Construyamos un Peru con valores» – «Let‘s create a Peru with values», are the words written in large letters on a wall in the school playground. And Flórez lets there be no doubt that he is taking this challenge seriously. His message to the young people is a call to diligence and consistency, his plea to the parents is to support and encourage their children and thus facilitate an education for them, as well as taking their musical ambition seriously.
A personal conversation with the parents proves that they understood his message: they talk about children who get up earlier to finish the last homework exercises for school so that there will be enough time during the afternoon for music lessons. They talk of children who were formerly withdrawn but who, since going to the music school, now talk more and enthusiastically relate what they have experienced when they get home. They show less aggression and violence towards siblings and schoolmates, better behaviour at school, as well as showing more respect at home.

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Music alters
«Sinfonía por el Perú» does not only content itself with these personal statements but has also used the núcleos in Manchay and Huànuco, a town in the Peruvian Andes, to study the effects of the project. In collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank BID, the development of the children in the music project was compared with that of their classmates who were not enrolled in the project. The results confirm that this is the right course.
Carmen‘s mother and the director of the Manchay núcleo, Santiago Paredes, also describe a similar change in Carmen. Before she went to the music school, she was a withdrawn, introverted child, diligent at school but very reticent and shy. Through music, she has become more open and today is one of the most dedicated pupils. After the first attempts at violin, cello and trumpet, she finally decided on the saxophone which she now plays with great fervour. She is also a member of the brass band, which is offered in every núcleo besides the classical symphony orchestra and choir. Music has given her self-confidence. She not only enjoys performing in groups but also as a soloist. And she is also more balanced at home, takes on responsibilities for her younger brother and helps her mother in the house.
«We maintain close communication with the parents», says Santiago Paredes, «once a month, we invite them to the núcleo to discuss pending questions and problems but also to create trust and to give them a direct view of things.

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Many mothers meanwhile play an active part in the núcleo and those who come from the most humble circumstances are the most involved. They control attendance – we register each child when it enters the music school and when it leaves – they wash the shirts and T-shirts which the children wear for performances and they organize snacks and drinks for special occasions. The núcleo has become a meeting point for them and some of them come just as regularly as their children. They treat it as a privilege to be able to make a contribution», said the dedicated director enthusiastically who, besides his function in the music school, also teaches at the elementary school.
The interest in the music lessons continues unabated. Auditions for one of the few free places in the music school take place every year. «We expect a huge commitment from the children. Those who don’t attend classes regularly or have unexcused absences, will be dismissed», explains Santiago Paredes. That‘s gotten around and therefore only those children apply who really want to attend.
A large problem for all locations in which «Sinfonía por el Perú» is active is the spatial infrastructure. In Manchay, the music school was accommodated in a convent, in other towns it‘s a room in the university or the public administration buildings which are available. But there‘s an accommodation problem everywhere, or difficulties in co-ordinating the rooms available due to different uses.


And naturally, the project should grow sustainably and without taking things too quickly. The interest across the whole country is huge, but the financial resources are limited. The government has not yet agreed to provide a permanent contribution and therefore primarily foreign foundations and private sponsors from Peru presently provide the financial support. But Juan Diego Flórez is confident. And he dreams of «Sinfonía por el Perú» having its own centre to educate highly talented musicians. A dream for the future. One of many.
Meanwhile, evening has fallen. We accompany Carmen home and on the way, buy a few kilos of rice, biscuits and chocolate for the family. That, above all, pleases the little brother. Carmen is proud of this exciting day.
At the end, she confided in us that she wants to become a famous saxophonist. That is her greatest goal. A goal that she takes seriously and towards which she will consistently work.

Sinfonia por el Perú and the Hilti Foundation
Hilti Foundation’s key objectives for the Sinfonia por el Perú include pursuing a realistic strategy and a lasting plan for the project. In particular, the support is concentrated on establishing music schools, but also recently on establishing and developing a national children’s and youth orchestra consisting of the most talented musicians from the greater Lima area. The orchestra rehearses five times a week and has developed remarkably quickly and positively since its founding. The goal is not only to make this orchestra a national and, in the medium-term, international ambassador for the Sinfonía por el Perú, but also to use it as source for recruiting the next generation of well-trained teachers for music schools. The most qualified candidates are offered to take part in the diploma programme of the Academia Filarmonica Iberoamericana in Medellin, which has been initiated by the Hilti Foundation and provides courses in music history, music theory, music pedagogy, psychology and health prevention as well as orchestral experience and conducting.