The Trenton Music Makers Orchestra brings together youth from 2nd grade through high school into one community orchestra. We are inspired by the “El Sistema” vision, which promotes equity through accessible classical music education. In 2015, we started a pilot program for 3rd & 4th graders with 30 violinist. In 2018-19, we expect to engage 125 young people.

Trenton Music Makers Orchestra is based at Grant Elementary School and Dunn Middle School in Trenton. Orchestra members work with highly qualified teaching artists and are provided with a string instrument to play in the program and take home for practice. Our diverse team includes master teachers, freelance musicians, recent college graduates and music teachers hired from the local school district. Their various strengths are a winning combination – one that serves the children’s musical and social development in an unparalleled manner.

About El Sistema
El Sistema is a game-changer for urban communities, providing opportunities for young people to participate in music making at a level that was previously out of reach. It started 40 years ago in Venezuela, and now serves more than a million children around the world.  Participation in El Sistema-inspired programs like the Trenton Music Makers Orchestra has been shown to reduce gang participation, improve graduation rates, and provide a sense of purpose for young people.

In 2009, El Sistema founder Jose Antonio Abreu was awarded the prestigious TED Prize, with a multi-million dollar grant that led to the founding of El Sistema USA. Supported by this initiative, musicians and educators who were inspired by Mr. Abreu's vision have started El Sistema programs in major cities all over the country. The Harmony Project in Los Angeles, one of such programs, participated in a research project whose results demonstrate that “learning to play a musical instrument produces such profound changes in children's brains that kids actually can hear and process sounds they couldn't hear otherwise.” Playing a musical instrument changes brain functions in very positive ways, and changes lives for the kids who need it the most. Millions of Americans were introduced to El Sistema by a 60 Minutes segment that aired on April 13, 2008, and have been following the movement as it grows. As its founder says, it is “social justice through music.”  It is also now recognized for developing world-renowned musicians, such as Gustavo Dudamel, Music & Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Why It Works
Music-making is a natural community builder. An orchestra is a team of one’s peers. Learning how to perform in harmony with others and contributing to the a common goal is an important ingredient in personal success. And as Trenton Music Makers youth also learn, music-making is the most fun you can have when you are working hard. It teaches delayed gratification and that the satisfaction of a job well done (a piece well played) is its own reward.

The orchestra is the only group that comes together with the fundamental purpose of agreeing with itself.
— José Antonio Abreu (1939-2018), El Sistema founder

Already in the early stages of this project, we have seen dramatic examples of music changing lives. 

  • One third grader known for creating disturbances in the classroom became a model student in order to participate in the El Sistema initiative. It was the early days of our program, before we were able to provide instruments to each child, and he persuaded his father to purchase a violin – not a small investment for a low-income family in Trenton – so he could play at home too.
  • Another third grader with dyslexia and ADHD raised her grades from C’s to A’s, in 16 short weeks that the pilot project ran. Her teachers remarked that she was particularly attentive in class on the three days that the program was held. She is a living example of how human brains react to music instruction.

We are grateful to the leadership of our host schools and the administration of the Trenton Public Schools for providing the space for this program. These critical partners also help us evaluate the impact of this intensive program on children's musical, academic and social development.