Venezuela's 'Sistema' Brings Classical Music to Maternity Wards

Image: Members of "El Sistema" play harps, as part of their "New Members" program, outside of the operating room where a woman is giving birth to her son at a public maternity hospital in Caracas
Members of 'El Sistema' play harps outside the operating room where a woman is giving birth at a public maternity hospital in Caracas, October 1, 2014. Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

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When Adan Bello was born, his blinking eyes turned towards the calm melody of a duo of harpists playing Brahms' "Cradle Song" in the corner of a Caracas public hospital's maternity wing.

Minutes later, his mother received a certificate signing Adan up for Venezuela's hugely successful classical music program, known as "El Sistema" (The System). In a nation awash with guns and with one of the world's highest murder rates, The System has for decades sought to counteract poor children's exposure to violence with the gentle and inspiring influence of classical music.

It used to only admit children aged at least 5. But under its latest "New Members" projects, hundreds of smaller infants can receive voice lessons, musical initiation with paper-made instruments, and free concerts. "Why wait that long if we can engage children from the moment of birth?" program coordinator Leonardo Mendez asked.

A member of 'El Sistema' plays on a harp next to a newborn baby at a public maternity hospital in Caracas on October 1, 2014.Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

— Reuters