El Sistema as a bourgeois social project: class, gender, and Victorian values

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This article asks why classical music in the UK, which is consumed and practiced by the middle and upper classes, is being used as a social action program for working class children in British music education schemes inspired by El Sistema. Through exploring the discourse of the social benefits of classical music in the late nineteenth century, a particular classed and gendered morality in relation to music can be traced that has parallels today. This paper argues, first, that classical music education fits with a middle-class disposition by rewarding investment in a future self; second, that it cultivates an ideal of hard work as a moral project; and third, that classical music allows young women to perform a “respectable” female identity. UK Sistema-inspired programs, in drawing on Victorian ideas of the “civilising influence” of culture, symbolise hope for the continuation of the bourgeois social project into the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-153
Number of pages34
JournalAction, Criticism and Theory for Music Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

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  • class
  • gender
  • Sistema
  • UK
  • inequality
  • classical music education

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