Children living on England’s poorest estates will be provided with musical instruments and taught for free how to perform works by composers such as Bach and Beethoven.
They will then be encouraged to join full-scale orchestras as part of a government scheme, spearheaded by internationally renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, that aims to tackle disaffection and boost aspiration.
Cellos, clarinets, trumpets and more will be given to children as young as four who have been recruited from the streets and clubs of deprived neighbourhoods, ministers will announce this week.
Music teachers, specially selected for their charisma, will then be brought in to teach the children how to play to orchestra standard. The aim is to emulate the success of a Venezuelan social programme that provided free classical music lessons to children living amid the drug addiction, crime and desperate poverty of the country’s most violent slums. El Sistema, which resulted in the formation of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, has been credited not just with transforming the lives of street children but the social fabric of the country. Its orchestra performed to wide acclaim at the Proms in London, last year.
Lloyd Webber, who has described the Venezuelan project as ‘brilliant’, will chair the steering group charged with creating its English equivalent.
‘I would say we were inspired by El Sistema, because you can’t just copy something like that,’ he said, describing how three areas will be chosen to launch initial pilots. ‘These are children who would never have thought of playing classical music. We are approaching music from a completely different angle. We are trying to take children out of poverty through music. They will be given instruments and they will be given proper tuition. If it does work here, it will change the face of musical education in this country.’
Lloyd Webber argued that good music would be a ‘by-product’ of a scheme that could tackle disaffection and boost aspiration among England’s least privileged children. The musician plans to work closely with Scottish Arts Council chairman Richard Holloway, who chairs a similar scheme in Scotland, which will launch its first project in Stirling later this month.
Lord Adonis, the schools minister, will unveil the English version of the Venezuelan programme this week at the Federation of Music Services annual conference.
‘Last August the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra played at the Royal Albert Hall,’ said Adonis. ‘It was stunning, enthralling and inspirational. We want to take this model, which has had such a positive impact on lives in Venezuela, and look at how it can be made to work in this country. I’m very pleased that Julian Lloyd Webber is on board. Not only is he a brilliant musician, he will make a great figurehead and a passionate advocate of our version of El Sistema. Music can be a powerful source of social change. It teaches discipline and rigour, it raises hopes and aspirations and it gives young people skills that stay with them for life.’
The government has been in touch with Dr José Antonio Abreu, who heads the project in Venezuela. One of the prodigies to come from El Sistema is conductor Gustavo Dudamel, described by the New York Times as ‘classical music’s hottest young podium property’. He was born to a poor family on the outskirts of Barquisimeto in the Venezuelan interior and took up the violin aged 10. Now 27, Dudamel, who calls music a ‘social saviour’, is set to become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Christina Coker, chief executive of Youth Music, spent time with Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra last summer and will be a member of Lloyd Webber’s steering group. ‘El Sistema is about lifting people out of poverty,’ she said. ‘The thing we must learn from it is that what we are seeing now is the outcome of 30 years. The risk here is that we stop and start with pilots.’
Coker said the scheme should target children under the age of five. The orchestra in Venezuela, she added, was the children’s ‘family, their school, their community’.
Meanwhile, new figures released at this week’s conference will show that 10,000 primary schools have signed up to Sing Up, a scheme that aims to get children across the country singing.
Source: Guardian Education