Out of the Shadows

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

In Harmony expands

In Harmony Lambeth's full ensemble, the Stockwell Children's Orchestra, rehearses at Wheatsheaf Hall in Vauxhall, London. 11 May 2012. Photo: Reynaldo Trombetta.
The Stockwell Children's Orchestra,
Photo: Reynaldo Trombetta.
In Harmony - Sistema England will be expanding its projects from this year. It has been announced that there will be funding, from the Arts Council and from the Department of Education for six projects running from 2012 to 2015. The existing In Harmony projects in Lambeth and Liverpool will be joined by new ones in Leeds, Nottingham, Telford & Wrekin and Gateshead. The new projects are being delivered by a similar mix of council services and musical organisations as the current two (the Lambeth project has been delivered by Lambeth Council and the Liverpool project by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra).


The Leeds project will be delivered by Opera North, who already have a wide variety of inclusive activities in addition to the main opera programme. The Nottingham project will be delivered by Nottingham City Council and the Telford & Wrekin project by Telford & Wrekin Music Service which is part of Telford & Wrekin Council and has been delivering vocal and instrumental tuition in schools since 2007. The Gateshead project will be delivered by the Sage Gateshead which has become well known as a centre for musical education and performance.

The Arts Council and the Department of Education are jointly funding the programme, with the Department providing £1.5 million and the Arts Council matching this and taking a co-ordinating role.

This is of course wonderful news and proof that the In Harmony - Sistema England model is being taking seriously. The project was founded by Julian Lloyd Webber in emulation of the Venezualan El Sistema, it uses classical music as a social force to bring positive change to children in disadvantaged areas. At the recent performances at the South Bank by Stockwell Children's Orchestra, I saw for myself what a wonderful effect this programme can have on children.

But it must be borne in mind that the Lambeth project is only a hub, it currently involves just three schools and the Liverpool project is of a comparable size. Lambeth has 450 pupils aged 4 to 12 years involved in the project, including over 100 children in the Stockwell Children's Orchestra, with tuition in school time and after school rehearsals. The new projects are going to be of a similar size (the Leeds project will involve 450 school children).

Whilst we should be applauding the way the projects are being supported, we should be pushing for the Arts Council and the Department of Education to grow this so that every disadvantaged child in the country has access to an In Harmony - Sistema England style project.

One thing that I am not clear about is how these new projects tie in with the government's music hubs, their new music strategy. The statement from the Arts Council stays that 'All six In Harmony projects will be encouraged to be entrepreneurial and to inspire other investment to help secure a sustainable long term future'. Which sounds a little too hands off for my taste, given that the project isn't about delivering the arts, but about social change and improvement. The projects will be receiving £250,000 in 2012-13, £150,000 in 2013-14 and £100,000 in 2014-15, so they almost seem to be saying its a good idea guys, we'll start you up and then you are on your own.

But In Harmony - Sistema England isn't just in the business of music lessons, in their model children can join the orchestra before they have mastered their instruments. The idea is to focus on team work, making music as an ensemble with everyone helping each other. At the South Bank performances I learned how the older children mentor the younger ones, so that they learn socially important skills. In Harmony - Sistema England are delivering social change in the nicest possible way.

There's a lot more information (and pictures) at the In Harmony - Sistema England website.



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