Not Just the Music is a feature-length documentary about a growing movement to create youth musical ensembles in poor urban and rural settings across America.

This movement is based on El Sistema, a now-famous Venezuelan program that fuses social reform and music education. For thirty-five years, the Venezuelan government has created youth orchestras nationwide to keep kids out of trouble and teach them life skills to carry them out of dire poverty. It has been stunningly successful. In the United States, independent El Sistema-inspired music programs are cropping up. As more American children who previously had little access to music education are joining orchestras, we believe making a film that documents this form of transformation is an essential contribution to social change.

In January 2013, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bard College, and the Longy School of Music will launch a program in LA to train and certify musicians to teach school based on El Sistema-style music education. We have exclusive access to make a film following the first crop of musicians in the inaugural class of this Master of Arts in Teaching program.

As the film chronicles the academic year, our protagonists will evolve from great musicians into newly-minted teachers. In that process, they will work with music programs that — modeled on El Sistema — use the discipline of orchestra, band, or chorus to create a path through school and out of poverty. Our cameras will follow them into the lives of the children they teach.

The film’s arc stretches from an overcrowded Boston charter school to the glamor of Los Angeles’s Disney Hall to the farm fields of California’s Central Valley. It spans states in which music and art are being systematically cut from the public schools. As rich character driven stories unfold, the film will follow the El Sistema movement in America while it emerges from a handful of disconnected sites to become a movement with the power to create broad social change. Along the way, leaders at the three partnering institutions provide essential perspective about their mission and broader context about music education. Together, they become the film’s Greek chorus of wisdom about the power of music to impact on children, schools, and communities.

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