Jose Abreu, founder of El Sistema Youth Orchestra in Venezuela, died Saturday, March 24th, at the age of 78. Abreu founded the globally acclaimed El Sistema, or The System, in 1975 in a garage with just nine musicians. In an interview, Abreu said about that first rehearsal: “I promised those present that I would stick with them to the very end and that I would turn that orchestra into a world-class orchestra.” They had 40 students by the 2nd rehearsal and doubled again by the 3rd. From that humble beginning, the network expanded to 300 choirs and orchestras that have received awards from the Royal Swedish Academy and UNESCO.

Alvaro Rodas, director of the Corona Youth Music Project, wrote his grad school thesis on Abreu and remembers him: “He was a great musician, put it simply. He was a very clever politician with a very good preparation in economics and a lot of experience in the politics of the Venezuelan government. And he truly believed in the capacity of children to accomplish amazing things. He was a very spiritual person. You know, you build a community around music. You bring about ideas of progress and dreaming beyond your imagination. And that to him was the power of music. And the way he spoke about it, he was very, very calm, very engaging, soft-spoken.”

Over 500,000 Venezuelan children are now part of El Sistema and another 10,000 in the U.S. besides El Sistema programs in over 60 countries all over the world.

Watch Gustavo Dudamel, an El Sistema graduate, working magic with Venezuelan teenagers, here.