Changing young lives through music in Portugal

Music is the means by which Portugal’s Orquestra Geração seeks to help the country’s disadvantaged youngsters. Since it was founded in 2007, it has, with EU financial support, touched the lives of hundreds of people aged 6-18 from deprived areas.

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Music is the means by which Portugal’s Orquestra Geração seeks to help the country’s disadvantaged youngsters.  © Orquestra Geração Music is the means by which Portugal’s Orquestra Geração seeks to help the country’s disadvantaged youngsters. © Orquestra Geração

" The focus is on social inclusion through music, in particular for children and adolescents who are socially and educationally vulnerable, and on developing an orchestral programme for young people in mainstream education, particularly those schools with a high dropout rate and difficulties, indeed conflicts, relating to multicultural relations. The approach is centred on the group to create a strong desire for teamwork where values like collaboration, discipline, effort and respect for each other are essential. Orquestra Geração also aims to build the children and young people’s self-confidence, and to broaden their cultural, career and relationship horizons, creating emotional ties with the school. "

Helena Lima, Educational coordinator, Orquestra Geração

Orquestra Geração started out in Amadora, near Lisbon and has since spread to other towns and cities, including Almada, Coimbra, Loures, Oeiras, Sesimbra, Sintra, Vila Franca de Xira and Lisbon itself. It encompasses some 22 schools and works with around 1 170 children from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The aim is to educate young people and increase their social inclusion by getting them involved in music and orchestras. Such involvement instils discipline, helping students to learn important lessons, both for music and for life.

Self-esteem and self-expression

Generating enthusiasm for orchestral music among young people from schools where the chance to hear it is limited seems like a big challenge. But for Orquestra Geração’s students, it all starts with a simple first step: that of choosing an instrument, and then imitating the teacher. And they also take care of their instrument and make sure they turn up to orchestra class.

Participation enables them to develop bonds of affection that reinforce teamwork, self-esteem and mutual respect. It also gives them tools with which to express themselves in a meaningful way through music.

All of these elements help to improve students’ lives and their all-round education, both in an academic and social sense. This is vital for young people at risk of becoming marginalised. Orquestra Geração’s contribution in this regard was recognised by the European Commission, which named it as one of the 50 best social projects in the EU in 2013 and 2014. Orquestra Geração also received the National Teachers’ Prize for innovation in 2010 from Portugal’s Ministry of Education.

A method that has spread worldwide

The basis for the development of Orquestra Geração is ‘El Sistema’, a musical and social methodology formulated in Venezuela in 1973 by José António Abreu. The idea is that through orchestras, children can learn how to live together, develop skills and stay out of trouble. Abreu formed an orchestra of professional musicians and sent them to difficult neighbourhoods to teach music by getting children to imitate how they played. Today in Venezuela, there are 500 000 people in the programme and the method has caught on throughout the Americas and Europe.

In Portugal, the educational side of the initiative is run by the National Conservatory of Music – with some 80 teachers working on it – while administrative aspects are taken care of by the Sistema Portugal Association of Youth Symphony Orchestras. Students spend seven hours a week in classes and each orchestra performs for their school and local organisations. Twice a year, they all come together and play at prestigious theatres around Portugal and even abroad.

In some towns, municipal orchestras have been set up for the most advanced children, and the best musicians from these have formed a regional orchestra. The project also includes a jazz band.

In 2017 alone, Orquestra Geração has played for Portugal’s President and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The repertoire ranges from classical composers such as Elgar, Shostakovitch and Bizet, to traditional Cape Verdean and Gypsy music, as well as Fado.

In the last five years, 30 students have discovered a vocation for classical musical and jazz. Two are finishing advanced studies in cello and double bass, six are studying music at university and 15 are pursuing secondary-level studies and want go to college afterwards. 

The objective now is to develop Orquestra Geração across Portugal, firstly in schools and then by creating further municipal and regional orchestras. There are also plans to set up an institute to train more teachers in the ‘El Sistema’ method.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Orquestra Geração” is EUR 857 500, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 352 490 through the “Lisbon” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

Draft date