I have written about In Harmony and the El Sistema approach to music education several times here on my blog primarily because I feel passionately about musical education for all. In Harmony was inspired by the El Sistema method employed in Venezuela; encouraging children from disadvantaged backgrounds to play orchestral instruments enabling them to join children’s orchestras. The method has been so successful in Venezuela that it has been implemented in Scotland (‘Big Noise’) and now here in England (and in other parts of the world too).
Children of all ages can take part in the scheme and the benefits have been frequently documented; it’s a well-known fact that learning a musical instrument not only helps develop a human being intellectually but also instils discipline, focus, humility, camaraderie and perhaps most importantly, helps foster an interest or a passion in music of all kinds. In my opinion, this scheme should be extended to all schools throughout the country – if only the funds were available. The process of learning an instrument is so much more important than the ability to play it. Just being able to read music is a very useful accomplishment. What a pity we can’t get our government to understand this.
I was invited to this year’s In Harmony Winter Concert at the Royal Festival Hall, which took place yesterday. In Harmony Lambeth is led and managed by Lambeth Children and Young People’s Services in partnership with the Southbank Centre. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is the key orchestral partner in the programme. Based in two key partner Lambeth primary schools, the programme engages 420 children each week in a programme of intensive music-making. There are three orchestras which rehearse twice a week after school; Purcell Orchestra, Sullivan Orchestra and Holst Orchestra.
It was a pleasure listening to these youngsters performing (the orchestras played separately and all together at the end). We were treated to old favourites such as O Sole Mio, Sway and Ode to Joy, which had all been meticulously prepared by the children and their teachers too, who quite clearly work tirelessly behind the scenes. In many ways it isn’t the children’s performances or even the music making itself that is crucial here; it is the fact that music is acting as a vehicle for addressing many problems in our society.
It was wonderful hearing all about so many children involved in the scheme whose lives it has really changed. We can only hope that this great scheme may be adopted throughout the UK (it has recently been expanded) so many more young people can benefit.