Venezuela’s El Sistema project is now being exported around the world. The concept is to give free music lessons to students in very impoverished neighborhoods to give the children a chance to better themselves through the study of music. This program is generating amazing results around the world in the geographical areas where it has been adopted. The latest in this success story of social empowerment of young people through music is taking place in Scotland.
from BBC News March 16, 2011
Sistema Scotland came to the Raploch in the summer of 2008.
The charity’s mission was to transform lives through music – using a model established in Venezuela in 1975.
The estate they chose, on the north west edge of Stirling, was notorious, having long-standing problems with drugs and crime.
George Anderson, communications officer at Sistema Scotland, says the area was picked because it was in the “symbolic” heart of Scotland, “geographically distinct” and easy to reach from all parts of the country.
Sistema’s work would also dovetail with Stirling Council’s regeneration in the area – including the £17m Raploch Community Campus – providing what he calls the regeneration “for the head”.
Mr Anderson says residents on the estate are fed-up with the “blighted” label – preferring instead to look to the future.
“People in Raploch are quite forward looking. They don’t want to dwell on past things – so we don’t,” he says.
“The old Raploch is gone.”
When the charity started the Big Noise orchestra, Mr Anderson says he only knew of one child on the whole estate who was having music lessons, but now there are more than 300.
And the reaction of parents whose children are involved in the orchestra appears to be universally positive.
One likens the inspiration it provides to the film Billy Elliot. Another says it has made her children “better and more tolerant” because they have been working with others of different religions and abilities.
Some parents say their children can concentrate and focus better, and several say it has had made theirs less aggressive and angry.
But how can music achieve all this?
The key is not the music, which Mr Anderson says is just a fortunate by-product of the whole project, but the working together.
“We’re generally seen as an arts project – but we’re not. We would have used pole vaulting if we thought it would work,” he says.
“The orchestra is a place where children can learn to live in a community and co-operate with other.
“An orchestra only works if everyone works together.”
All barriers to involvement in the project are removed, with free music lessons and instruments for all.
Children with learning difficulties can take part in the orchestra even if they cannot read traditional music by using a special colour-based notation system.
Adults are also offered music lessons and mini-concerts held in many Raploch homes have “saturated” the whole estate in music, says the charity.
“Early on we realised that some of the parents did not realise how well their children were doing and that some parents did not come to concerts, so we started the project called ‘bring a musician home for tea’,” says Mr Anderson.
“Everyone wants one now and sometimes half the street turns up to listen.”
One man who has observed closely the impact of the Big Noise orchestra on the estate is documentary-maker David Peat.