Taking Sistema to Britain’s students

Inspired by El Sistema, UK initiative In Harmony provides creative, innovative music education for the children who need it most, says project manager Richard Shrewsbury

Old Park Primary in Telford and Heron Cross Primary in Stoke-on-Trent are schools where creative learning is essential to engage children and families in the community. The number of children whose families require subsistence, and students with special educational needs, are well above average, so music education is not always a top priority. But In Harmony has been implemented in the two schools, and is successfully using music as a tool to increase aspirations, enthuse, unite and inspire the community.

Part of the In Harmony programme, which is inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, In Harmony Telford & Stoke (IHTS) is a social programme that aims to develop holistic music education for children and the wider school community. Our aims of inspiring, enthusing and uniting people through music are core to the success of the programme. Just over a year into the project and over 900 children are now playing instruments – as every child in the two schools is given a free opportunity to learn music with professional musicians from the City of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraManchester Camerata and Telford & Wrekin Music and Stoke City Music.

But it’s the technological advances of IHTS that make it really unique: the programme has created an entire new set of online tools which enhance children’s learning experience, as well as empower teachers. The website supports learning at home by hosting backing tracks and notation for children to access online, facilitating those all-important home practice sessions and performances for family and friends.

For the musical community, the online programme also offers the opportunity for musicians located in different parts of the UK to collaborate, plan and share musical ideas online. The benefit of the online programme to teachers is immeasurable. Teachers at the schools where IHTS is in place can facilitate music lessons where the children can practice and perform without needing to be musicians themselves.

In Harmony Telford and Stoke (IHTS)
In Harmony players

In Harmony Telford & Stoke is the only organisation which provides for two simultaneous Local Authority areas, thus creating two ‘nucleos’ for music education. IHTS is a partnership with two of the best professional orchestras and music services – City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Manchester Camerata and the music services of Telford and Stoke-on-Trent – which provide musicians to work with the children and the community, and also offer first time concert experiences for families to enjoy together. Family trips, community concerts and adult learning are some of the keys events in the In Harmony calendar. This coupled with the opportunity to perform outside of the classroom using the online tools, makes for a musical experience for the children which is fully integrated into their lives both at school and at home.

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In just a short space of time the legacy of In Harmony is clear to see, proving that the social aspects of music are making a positive impact on children and their families. IHTS are now working in partnership with their local secondary schools to ensure musical progression, and encourages encouraging previous pupils to return to their primary school to help others.

Over the next two years, IHTS is organising a wide variety of performances for and by the children they are working with, impacting their lives, homes and communities.

IHTS players will partner with Nicola Benedetti and Manchester Camerata in September.