CONNECTING IN ACTION WEEK
19 September 2012, In Harmony Lambeth, London.
In South London, Gerry Stirling and his teaching team at In Harmony Lambeth have their weekly tutor meeting at the local Portuguese café. “Our converted container was needed for instrument storage, so this is our board room,” he tells us. We know how he feels – the Sistema Aotearoa offices at the Otara Music Arts Centre (OMAC) are also stacked with violins and cellos. We will spend most of the day with Gerry as he leads his tutors through a busy schedule of small and large group teaching in-school, finishing with an after-school orchestra rehearsal.
The In Harmony Lambeth team operates literally at the centre of its community: the two connected schools and Wheatsheaf Hall (an old paper factory) where they teach are situated in the centre of a large housing estate where the majority of the children live. The central location and easy access for local families gives a focus and a profile to programme activity. We’ve found the same thing with our base at OMAC.
Gerry is perfect for the director’s job, coming from a broad community music teaching background and Salvation Army work. In Harmony Lambeth works closely with the Lambeth Council, partnering on pastoral care, organising volunteer and working space.
The programme also has an exciting connection toLondon’s Southbank Centre, where this year the children performed alongside the Simon Bolivar Symphony, Beijing Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras. For lunch, we meet with Georgina Cervin, the Southbank’s senior manager for creative partnerships (cellist and sometime APO employee). After showing us the amazingly rich and numerous partner projects happening at the Southbank, Georgina introduces us to Tabby Estell who looks after the Southbank/In Harmony Lambeth partnership, and Rob Adideran of The Bridge Project. Both Rob and Tabby speak passionately about In Harmony and its potential impact. The Bridge Project, supported by London Music Masters, works with kids from inner city London boroughs to address ethnic and socio-economic diversity within professional classical music ensembles. Through the Southbank, the London Philharmonic plays a part at both The Bridge Project and In Harmony Lambeth: an orchestral commitment to a city’s children not unlike that of the Auckland Philharmonia.
Back through Waterloo Station to Lambeth and to Wheatsheaf Hall, where we help set up for the afternoon’s orchestra rehearsal. The kids arrive and head straight to the playground next door for a pre-practice break. We chat to parents and hear the same wonderful things we’ve heard throughout our visit to the UK’s Sistema programmes: “our kids have more confidence,” “they stay focused longer,” “he likes his football, but he also likes his violin”. The way the kids concentrate and play together at rehearsal is inspiring, and the multicultural make-up of the children’s orchestra make us homesick for our own programme. The 24 hours on the plane can’t pass quickly enough…
Till next time
18 September 2012
In Harmony Liverpool, part of In Harmony Sistema England
You’ll find a New Zealander in every part of the world. We are in West Everton, North Liverpool, and Rod Skipp – Artistic Director of In Harmony Liverpool – is that New Zealander. Rod leads the teaching team at the Sistema-based In Harmony Liverpool programme, part of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO). This set-up has at its heart a similar sense of community engagement as our own Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
On Sunday we heard the West Everton Super Strings perform to open the RLPO’s Orchestra Open Day. We were impressed with the confidence and accuracy of the young players. Our own performance flagship, The Raploch Orchestra, will perform at APO’s Orchestra Open Days in West and South Auckland. It’s encouraging to see near identical activity across programmes, even though they are hemispheres apart.
Today was a long day spent visiting FaithSchoolwith the In Harmony Liverpool team. We start at 8.45 with Shake Up and Sing: warming up bodies and sharpening brains for the day. Everyone joins in, teachers and visitors! In Harmony teaches during school time, and we sit in on several small group instrument lessons. The programme is a little further on than Sistema Aotearoa. Our Sistema kids will be focusing on reading music while playing at our next Sistema holiday course in October.
Our last session is an after-school string quartet coaching of four 13-year-old ‘originals’. The kids are really excited to learn a new arrangement written just for them. I help the second violinist to correctly play C natural within a fast passage. I must seem hugely uncool, as all I get is the tiniest of acknowledgements in response. However, when I compliment the young player on mastering it (which she does remarkably quickly), there is a small but obvious smile of achievement. We see a lot of these smiles at Sistema Aotearoa, and we’ve seen a lot of these smiles today – testament to the work of Rod, Zoe, Peter and the rest of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s In Harmony Liverpool team.
Catch you later,
14 September 2012
Big Noise Raploch, Sistema Scotland
It’s 10pm. We’ve just finished watching a documentary broadcast on BBC2 about the Big Noise Raploch programme and its journey towards a massive concert with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra to launch the London Olympiad. It’s not your typical reality documentary. The Big Noise children seem unreal on screen, and yet we know that they are very real, having heard them play and speak to us in that unmistakable Scottish accent.
It’s exciting to meet our programme partners and see them in action. It’s humbling to hear their questions and compliments about how we do Sistema in Otara,Auckland. At the invitation of programme director Nicola Killean, Ros and I give a lunchtime presentation to the staff and musician teaching team. While the formal Maori greeting (and accompanying waiata) raises a few eyebrows, the videos of our Kiwi kids belting out the same beginners’ tunes that these Scottish musicians taught their students a few years earlier brings smiles of familiarity and hugs of congratulations. In the words of Gustavo Dudamel, we are “Sistema brothers and sisters” and we really do feel like it – we have worked, shared and laughed just like a family.
In two days we’ve participated in all aspects of the programme: after-school rehearsals with full symphony orchestras, nursery and primary school musicianship lessons, ‘baby noise’ sessions with newborns and toddlers right though to The Noise, a 35-piece orchestra made up of parents, workers and older residents of the Raploch community, under the baton of the ruthless Venezuelan violinist Veronica Urrego.
Veronica visited Sistema Aotearoa last year, with support from the British Council, and we are still reaping the benefits of her time with us. True to form, Veronica refuses my offer of playing violin with the orchestra, putting me on double bass instead with Ros on percussion. We play an arrangement of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, and have an hilarious time rehearsing and chatting with these amazing and community-minded people, who are all hugely positive about the impact of Big Noise on their children’s and grandchildren’s lives, not to mention their own. We’d love to do this in Otara.
Over the next few days we visit In Harmony Liverpool, administered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The artistic director of their Sistema programme, Rod Skipp, is a Kiwi cellist. He visited us last September (he said he was visiting to watch some sporting event; not sure what that could have been…). We can’t wait – bring on more sensational Sistema stuff!
Till next time,
11 September 2012
Sistema Aotearoa goes international! Sistema Aotearoa’s management team of Dr Joe Harrop and Ros Giffney will spend 10 days volunteering at three different Sistema-based programmes in the United Kingdom. As Sistema Aotearoa approaches the end of its pilot phase, we will be gathering vital information and experience as we visit and work with programmes that have been active for several years.
We will meet the management, teaching teams and, most importantly, the children and parents from Big Noise Raploch (Sistema Scotland), In Harmony Liverpool and In Harmony Lambeth (In Harmony Sistema England). This will build on the learning and teaching we have established over the last two years with the Auckland Philharmonia in Otara, South Auckland. It will also give us a clear picture of how Sistema programmes grow and develop once they have been established.
Ros Giffney inspects a cardboard violin Dr Joe Harrop shows excellent technique
We’ve been working hard to be part of the incredibly active Sistema global community. Both myself and APO Chief Executive Barbara Glaser have visited our partner programme in Raploch, Scotland. Barb has even met the founder of Sistema, Maestro Jose Abreu, in person! Kerry Harvey, the chair of Sistema Aotearoa’s steering group, attended an El Sistema conference hosted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. So, when Ros said she was going to visit her family in England, I thought the opportunity to connect with programmes and people (young and old) who are a few years ahead of us on their Sistema journey was too good to miss.
We’ve taken a no frills approach to our UK Sistema fact finder: we’re borrowing a car off Ros’s nephew and we’ll be able to tell you which of the roadside Travelodge motels are worth staying at. So check back in for our next blog entry, when we will be working at the Big Noise Raploch programme, part of Sistema Scotland: www.makeabignoise.org.uk
Dr Joe Harrop
Photos by Adrian Malloch