Time for Cleveland’s budding El Sistema music education movement to expand: Margaret Bernstein–The Plain Dealer (2013)

El Sistema, you continue to play with my heartstrings.

I’ve written in the past about this gutsy and successful effort to save children through music. The El Sistema model, which originated in Venezuela and is now internationally acclaimed, shows how a rigorous, inspiring afterschool music program can change the livesof low-income kids. It provides intense, high-quality music training to children who can least afford it, and gives them the exposure, mentoring and life skills needed to navigate out of poverty.

On Friday, you could see the ever-growing reach of this program as close to 1,000 people walked into the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus — in the rain — to hear the stirring sound of strings played by Slavic Village children in one of Cleveland’s two El Sistema programs.

I’m guessing you’ve never heard Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” played purely by violins and cellos?

Trust me, you would have enjoyed it. Guest composer Obadiah Baker, a Cleveland native, created a strings-only arrangement of the hit song that won over the schoolkids in the audience, prompting grins and nods of recognition.

Tiranay Campbell, a fifth-grader at St. StanislausSchool, is one of 51 youngsters participating in the four-day-a-week afterschool program sponsored by CityMusic Cleveland. “I like Mozart and Beethoven,” said Tiranay,a violinist recently accepted into the Cleveland School of the Arts music program.

But it’s especially fun to play a Michael Jackson song, she added.

Baker had a pointed reason for choosing “Beat It.”

The song, Baker told me, has a strong message for kids growing up amid urban violence:

“Subliminally, it encourages children to be responsible when confronted with peer pressure and to tell their bullies to beat it.”