This weekend The Southbank has been transformed into a ‘nucleo’. Children are everywhere: gathered in various parts of The Festival Hall, waiting to perform, listening to others perform. Everyone is excited, even the adults.
I was fortunate to be able to spend a few hours on Friday just chilling, listening, watching, being entertained and being inspired.
I arrived just as a couple of schools were starting to perform on the steel pans. I found a seat and settled awkwardly (feeling a bit conspicuous at being on my own). Initially I was struck by the big sound coming from these instruments but I soon became glued to watching a young boy, probably year 4-5, who just couldn’t stop moving as he played. Most of the other children appeared self conscious in front of their audience but not this little chap. He was in the groove. There’s something about steel pans. Or maybe it was the pieces they were playing – all up beat, recent pop songs. But you know what? These children were having fun. By the time they were playing their second piece they had relaxed, and they too were in the groove. So, too, were all the people who had gathered to watch. Young and old, drawn by the excitement, were moving: toes were tapping, people subconsciously dancing to the beat, drawn into the groove and lost in the moment.
Quite a crowd had gathered, and it was obvious that the young primary school age children were enjoying the attention. They were good at what they were doing, people were responding, their self-esteem was rocketing and at that moment they were all equal.
So, that was the afternoon. In the evening we were fortunate to attend the concert performed by Teresa Carreno Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, the sister orchestra of the famous Simon Bolivar Orchestra. The first thing to say is that this orchestra is HUGE! 14 double basses, two harps, double brass, double woodwind and goodness knows how many violins. Sadly, the auditorium wasn’t full. I suspect many thought “it’s just a youth orchestra, a load of kids…” True, they were young (14-19 year olds), but the quality of this concert was amazing. It was professional and focused; the musicianship from these young people was extraordinary. It was clear that everyone agreed as the applause lasted longer by far than any other concert I have attended. Of course we all wanted an encore and they didn’t disappoint. Whilst the auditorium grew dark the orchestra quickly changed from their formal attire to their familiar Venezuelan coloured jackets. What followed was a stark contrast to the seriousness of Rimsky -Korsakov’s
Scherhazade. They played several Latin-American pieces which had the audience dancing in their seats, and the orchestra dancing too whilst they performed. In true Venezuelan fashion, these young people showed that playing quality music could be fun for all.
The whole day was overwhelming to witness. It was inspiring. But it also made me feel sad. So few children have this kind of exposure to music. The children at the school I teach in don’t have this opportunity and neither do the majority of children who attend state primary schools in the UK.
The UK has a handful of ‘nucleos’ (eight) where children are exposed to the El Sistema-like programme. ‘In Harmony Sistema England’ is what it’s called here in the UK.
So…. What about all the other children? When will they get their turn? Surely music and music education is a birthright and not a privilege.
Kidenza is determined to find a way to fix this problem. With government funding constantly being slashed we have already realized that we have to look to companies and persuade them that they have a corporate social responsibility to invest in our children’s future.
Most of the above attributes are what major companies are looking for when they recruit. As a nation we are being short sighted by not investing in the adults of tomorrow. You only have to read the evaluations of El Sistema to know that a structured music education from an early age is priceless.