Local Heather Netz and Bridge Musica students. Photo courtesy of Anna Ancheta

Local musician Anna Ancheta is utilizing a Venezuelan program, El Sistema, developed by Jose Antonio Abreu in 1975, to extend musical education, especially string instruction, to Hill and valley students of all ages. “Local orchestra string sections are declining,” Ancheta noted, “and it’s important to begin developing new players.”

In the U.S., sports programs have long been viewed as ways for children, especially those from economically disadvantaged families, to develop valuable skills, learn teamwork, and find pathways out of poverty. In Venezuela, Abreu’s El Sistema has done the same for poor children, but uses orchestral instruction as the vehicle for advancement.

Anna Ancheta (left) and Heather Netz, Idylwild locals and key Bridge Musica instructors. Photo courtesy of Anna Anchetta

The El Sistema program has gained widespread acceptance in the United States. Sometimes referred to as “passion first/refinement second,” the program emphasizes ensemble participation from the earliest stages, group learning, peer teaching and a commitment to keeping joy at the forefront of the student experience. Its primary stated purpose is to create a daily haven of safety and inclusiveness that builds every child’s self-esteem and sense of value.

“Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values — solidarity, harmony, mutual and compassion,”Sistema founder Abreu said. “And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings.”

Musica founder Anna Ancheta works with young students. Photo courtesy of Anna Ancheta

Ancheta’s El Sistema-modeled Bridge/Musica program provides free after-school string instruction and instruments to students of any age in partnership with the San Jacinto Unified School District. Bridge provides individualized and small group lessons, music theory and ensemble performance for budding young string players. “We use singing and song instruction on a daily basis,” said Ancheta. “You can’t play a string instrument in tune if you can’t hear and sing what you intend to play.” El Sistema utilizes singing, body expressiveness and rhythm as key elements of its methodology.

Ancheta, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s music program has long taught string players in the valley. In the Bridge/Musica program, which she developed and introduced this year into the San Jacinto school system, she is joined by Eastman School of Music graduate and Idyllwild local Heather Netz, violin instructor, as well as Mary Duffy, former Idyllwild Arts student and bass-playing member of last year’s winning jazz combo at the Berklee School of Music High School Jazz Festival. Duffy, as do all the teachers, instructs in bowing, note reading, fingerings and rhythms.

Bringing this formalized training to rural areas, far from major metropolitan performing arts facilities, was an important motivating factor in launching this program, said Ancheta. “Rural areas do not have the economic or personnel resources of metropolitan areas,” notes Ancheta. “We are so lucky to have a gifted group of teachers who have come here, encouraged by the gracious welcome of schools and parents, and inspired by the opportunity.”

Ancheta’s program differs from some other El Sistema-inspired programs in that it is not funded by, affiliated with or an adjunct of a major performance ensemble. It is privately funded through grants and donations and operates under the aegis of the Diamond Valley Arts Council.

Ancheta’s Musica foundation, in addition to the Bridge component, supports the Inland Valley Youth Orchestra, the Summer Strings Academy and Musica Master Classes.

For more information about the Bridge/Musica programs, call (951) 659-6312 or [email protected].