Defining Social Change through Music with El Sistema USA (2020-2021)


El Sistema is an evidence-based system of music education for social change. Founded in Venezuela in 1975, El Sistema creates opportunity through ensemble-based instruction as a model for youth development. Through eliminating barriers for students who experience them at the highest levels, these programs work alongside students, families and community partners to provide access to the benefits of high-quality music education.

El Sistema USA (ESUSA), the national alliance of programs inspired by El Sistema, has over 110 member organizations in 34 states and a strong presence in the Triangle. This project builds on three years of collaborative research, including work by previous Bass Connections teams. This work has led to an understanding that the broad mission of social change through music varies across the membership of ESUSA.

Project Description

This project team will seek to understand how different ESUSA organizations are defining social change through music and identify and query these potential areas of social change through analysis and recommendations for organizational support.

The 2020-2021 team will begin by studying the variety of meanings of social change through readings and presentations, in order to understand the context of the intended markers of social change as pursued by ESUSA programs. They will then analyze and report on the 2020 ESUSA National Census.

Team members will conduct interviews with a subset of ESUSA organizations to expand on the results of the census questions on social change. They will also participate every other month in national board committee conference calls, working with the Membership Engagement Committee to ask questions of the leadership of ESUSA programs regarding intended outcomes in social change. Together they will build a network of desired outcomes in social change across ESUSA’s membership.

Anticipated Outputs

Dataset for further research; presentations at on-campus ESUSA regional conference and with Membership Engagement Committee of ESUSA


Fall 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Fall 2020: Creation and dissemination of annotated bibliographies on ESUSA programs; review and compilation of ESUSA census data; follow-up census interviews and focus groups
  • Spring 2021: Written report and website to disseminate findings; team presentation at ESUSA Southeast regional meeting at Duke

See earlier related team, Youth, Music and Social Change: Building the Evidence Base with Kidznotes and El Sistema USA (2019-2020).


Image: El Sistema USA, Transformation through Music, Illustrations by Collective Next, by TedxBoston, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

El Sistema chart.

Team Leaders

  • Lorrie Schmid, Social Science Research Institute
  • Jessica Sperling Smokoski, Social Science Research Institute
  • Kathryn Wyatt, Arts & Sciences-Music

/graduate Team Members

  • Michael Sheehy, Public Policy Studies-MPP

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Sara Burpeau, Psychology (AB)
  • Julia Henegar
  • Alexander Leo-Guerra
  • Pataraporn Smitasin, Sociology (AB)
  • Ziyue Zhang
  • Brennan Zook, Public Policy Studies (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Megan Gray, Social Science Research Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

  • El Sistema USA