Monday 25 June 2012

Youthful music (1) - Lambeth

Children from In Harmony Lambeth playing at the South Bank Centre
On Saturday 23 June Jude Kelly opened four days of music making at the Southbank Centre, centred on young people. The idea was to reproduce the Venezualan nucleo, a coming together of young people for music making all day. The four days were centred on the residency of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra who would be giving two concerts under conductor Gustavo Dudamel, all of them products of the famous Venezualan El Sistema.

Saturday started off with a concert in the Clore Ballroom from the Stockwell Childrens Orchestra, the combined orchestras of In Harmony Lambeth. In Harmony Lambeth is one of three pilot projects of In Harmony - Sistema England, a social and music education programme that was established in 2009 by cellist Julian Lloyd Webber as the English incarnation of El Sistema. The three current projects are in Lambeth, Liverpool (Everton) and Norwich. All are designed to give disadvantaged children the opportunity to make music, on the firm basis that the cooperative musical experience can have other beneficial social effects.

In Harmony Lambeth is based around three schools in South Lambeth where the pupils have the opportunity to have weekly music lessons in small groups, then after school rehearsals allow them to play in the In Harmony Lambeth orchestras.

As with El Sistema in Venezuala the effect of this music making is profoundly transformative, not just in allowing the children to make music, but also in terms of general schooling. They see improvements in the children's attidudes to school, also improvements in the traditionally problematic relationship between the schools involved in the system as well as the greater invovlement of the parents in general school activities.

At Saturday's concert, Peter Gritton, Director of Music at St. Paul's School presented In Harmony Lambeth with a cheque for £700, representing fundraising done by boys and parents. This is the start of a relationship between In Harmony Lambeth and St. Paul's School where it is planned that boys from St. Paul's School will mentor children from In Harmony Lambeth. Two of the St. Paul's boys were playing with the Stockwell childrens Orchestra at Saturday morning's concert, and the children of In Harmony Lambeth have attended concerts at St. Paul's School.

Fundraising remains a crucial fact of life for In Harmony Lambeth. They have recently raised enough money to buy brass instruments and are fundraising for percussion; the more instruments they have the more children can participate. But more pressing is the need to fund individual weekly one-to-one lessons for their top eight pupils.

Children from In Harmony Lambeth playing at the South Bank Centre
They have a number of ensembles, depending on experience and ability. The most recently formed is the In Harmony Lambeth quartet, four young players who started playing together two months ago and who played a short solo at the concert. Also the more senior children are encouraged to mentor the younger ones.

One item was conducted by Simi, a 13 year old boy who plays cello in the orchestra. He does not attend one of the In Harmony Lambeth schools but got interested when discovering a friend playing the cello. He started attending the after school classes and has made incredible strides, both in playing his instrument and conducting the orchestra.

After their chamber orchestra had given a spirited rendition of the Blue Danube, the entire orchestra joined with soloist Julian Lloyd Webber in a piece by one of the tutors called Hot Gold. Julian Lloyd Webber is more than just a figure-head and is strongly active in the project. I spoke to him briefly after the concert and he talked positively of the powerful effect that participation had on all involved, how it brings people together from all walks of life and backgrounds.

Julian Lloyd Webber with children from In Harmony Lambeth playing at the South Bank Centre
Also attending the concert and equally enthusiastic supporters of the project were Tricia Tunstill annd Jamie Bernstein. Tricia is the author of Changing Lives, a book describing El Sistema. Jamie Bernstein is the daughter of Leonard Bernstein, and she works heavily with El Sistema.

There is perhaps a danger that from our position of opportunity and privilege, we might be in danger of indulging in smug paternalism and patronisation. But then you hear some of the children's stories, see how muich effort they put into the classes, and see the intense concentration on their faces when they play and you realise that this is a project which deserves every support.

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