The Third Way is Not The Only Way

Interrogating a Centrist Agenda for El Sistema Research


  • Geoff Baker Royal Holloway | University of London | United Kingdom


This article offers a critical response to the special issue of Music & Arts in Action on youth orchestras and Sistema-inspired programs (Vol. 8 No. 2, 2023). I argue that the editorial’s framing of the field and its proposed research agenda are based on a mischaracterization of books by Tricia Tunstall and myself, and fail to take account of important developments over the last five years. The special issue advocates for exploring complexity, yet promotes narrowing research down to evaluative questions – a process of (over)simplification. Its pursuit of balance and symmetry has parallels with political centrism such as the Third Way. Like its political counterpart, academic centrism deserves recognition and critical scrutiny as an ideology. Given that the El Sistema field shows marked asymmetries, I argue that researchers should be more concerned with rebalancing, and should therefore be willing to “get off the fence.” Balance comes from a diversity of competing perspectives given equal space, not an insistence on adopting a single approved approach. I propose four ways to push the field to a new level: quality control, engagement with existing research, taking a stand against injustices, and working together.



2023-11-13 — Updated on 2023-11-14