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. 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; the orchestras played separately and then 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 inspiring to hear about the 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.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.
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Basic music education must surely be acknowledged by the government moreso (Tony Bliar stopped access to free nusic education in infant/junior schools, (probably to pay for bombs to drop in Iraq)). We must surely write to the Education Secretary if only to increase the provision of lunchtime music appreciation classes so at least children can know music does not begin and end with pop and RnB. I remember lunchtimes in school in the early 1980s and our old teacher bringing in ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ at our music club. I would never had known such music actually existed and so it’s crucial that we give this opportunity to 21st century kids of all social classes. Why should parents have to pay for their kids to experience all facets of lovely music at school???