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Thousands Mourn Creator of Venezuelan Youth Orchestras

People applaud in honor of the late Jose Antonio Abreu during his wake at an auditorium in Caracas. Abreu, founder of Venezuela's network of youth orchestras known as 'El Sistema' or The System, died at age 78 on Saturday, March 24.

Thousands of Venezuelans have paid homage to Jose Antonio Abreu, parading past the coffin of the economist turned visionary musical educator who created a network of youth orchestras that has been replicated around the world.

His coffin was delivered with military honors Sunday morning to the headquarters of the program, where the concert hall was converted into a chapel. Students of varying ages took turns playing pieces by Bach, Beethoven and other composers.

The death of the 78-year-old Abreu was announced Saturday by his family. No cause was given, but he had been known to be battling several illnesses since he retired a few years ago from running the musical education program known as El Sistema.