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El Sistema USA Invests $1 Million in Music Education Programming


El Sistema USA, a national membership association dedicated to supporting programs to effect social change through music, launched a 3-year, $1 million-dollar investment into 13 organizations in 11 states across the country to bring free music education to underserved youth.

The Program for Rising El Sistema Organizations (PRESTO) is a significant financial investment to support organizational growth and capacity development, and also provides professional development and mentorship resources investing in organizational leadership.

“Our goal is to support innovation and growth in the El Sistema movement across the United States. The PRESTO program is our way of providing that support through resources and training for young organizations exhibiting great potential,” said El Sistema USA’s Executive Director, Katie Wyatt. “It is thanks to the vision of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation and their belief in our work that El Sistema USA is able to make this $1 million-dollar investment into El Sistema-inspired organizations that have shown early initiative and displayed exemplary work.”

The one-million-dollar grant will support the development and sustainability of the El Sistema movement in the United States. In partnership with Duke University’s Center for Nonprofit Management, PRESTO grantees will receive a Certificate in high-level professional development training in management and leadership. They will also each be assigned a mentor from within the field of El Sistema USA, supporting their El Sistema-inspired learning.

“The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation is pleased to support El Sistema USA’s PRESTO, with the confidence that it will help serve many students and communities through music education and exciting ensemble performances. We offer our congratulations and best wishes to the awardee organizations,” said Charles T. Angell, President of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

All applicants were a part of a national competitive application and review process. The following 13 organizations have been accepted into the PRESTO program and awarded funding:

Accent Pontiac- Bloomfield Hills, MI

Buffalo String Works– Buffalo, NY

Trenton Music Makers– Trenton, NJ

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra– Charlotte, NC

ComMUSICation- St. Paul, MN

Empire State Youth Orchestra– Schenectady, NY

Harmony Project KC– Kansas City, MO

Harmony Project Tulsa– Tulsa, OK

Make Music NOLA– New Orleans, LA

Project Music- Stamford, CT

Riverside Arts Academy– Riverside, CA

Salty Cricket Composers Collective– Salt Lake City, UT

WHIN Music Community Charter School- New York, NY


Concurrent with the launch of PRESTO, at the July 2018 meeting of the Board of Directors of El Sistema USA, Christine Taylor Conda, Director of the Reach*Teach*Play education programs at Ravinia, North America’s oldest and most musically diverse music festival, has been named Chair of the El Sistema USA board of directors for a one-year term. She has been a member of El Sistema USA’s board for two years.

“Christine Taylor Conda brings the experience in education and social justice leadership crucial to advancing the work of El Sistema USA. I am excited to begin our partnership in supporting the national movement of El Sistema, passionately building communities and opportunity for all through music education,” said Katie Wyatt, Executive Director of El Sistema USA.

The mission of El Sistema USA is to support and grow a nationwide movement of programs inspired by El Sistema—the immersive music education process originally developed in Venezuela that puts instruments into the hands of children to begin playing in orchestras immediately—to effect social change through music for children with the fewest resources and the greatest need. El Sistema USA’s diverse membership across the United States represents programs that serve some of the most vulnerable communities and children in the country. The organization provides connections to knowledge and innovation, advocacy, and leadership development for program directors, teaching artists, students, and volunteers. Members collaborate to share resources, values, aspirations, and advocacy efforts. El Sistema USA serves three major purposes: strengthening existing “nucléos” (sites guided by El Sistema principles) through capacity development and research; encouraging the formation of new nucléos by providing resources, connections, and training; and building awareness of the El Sistema movement at large throughout the United States. Information is available at

“The children in all of our programs nationwide deserve the highest levels of artistic and social support. I’m honored to serve on the board with colleagues who share this view and are passionate about supporting the 20,000 kids now benefitting from El Sistema initiatives,” Taylor Conda said. “As board members, we are stewards of El Sistema USA and have a tremendous responsibility to the El Sistema–inspired community. At Ravinia, I have witnessed how truly great boards operate to advance the mission of the organization. In fact, I am forever grateful to Ravinia’s Women’s Board for initiating our education programs. I hope to bring those experiences to bear during my tenure as El Sistema USA board chair.”

The seeds of Ravinia’s education initiatives, now known as Reach*Teach*Play, were sown by Ravinia’s all-volunteer Women’s Board in the 1960s. Taylor Conda, who has been the director of Reach*Teach*Play for 16 years, has grown this portfolio of programs to serve more than 85,000 people annually throughout Chicagoland. Nearly 10 years ago, that board’s long-range plan identified El Sistema as an important opportunity. With counsel and major funding from the Women’s Board, Taylor Conda developed Sistema Ravinia, starting student orchestras in budget-strapped schools without music programs of their own by providing all the instruments, instructors, and El Sistema philosophy.

“Through Christine’s work, we have all seen worlds open for the children who have picked up instruments for the first time. We see their joy turn to passion and then pride,” said Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman. “We at Ravinia couldn’t be prouder that Christine is sharing her own passion and profound experience with orchestra leaders around the country.”

Taylor Conda previously served as Program Director of the Forum Network at Boston’s Public Broadcasting Service, WGBH, and as Executive Director of the Boston Music Education Collaborative. She earned a BA in Sociology with a focus on urban education from Harvard University and an MM in Vocal Performance as well as a Music-in-Education Certificate from the New England Conservatory of Music.