RESOURCE upon resource has been poured into Govanhill, a small but notorious community in Glasgow's south side – education, NHS, social work, housing, you name it – but nobody has yet thought to use a violin to combat the problems of the area.
Thanks mainly to the board of Govanhill Housing Association, Glasgow City Council this week voted to approve plans that will see El Sistema move into the area in an attempt to create a literally harmonious community.
El Sistema, developed in Venezuela in 1975, is an orchestra for the poorest, most deprived children. Every child who walks through the door is given an instrument and intensive music tuition, a total immersion in classical music, with the aim of enriching their lives artistically, intellectually and socially. For the past five years a branch of El Sistema, Big Noise Raploch, has been working in the Stirling housing estate to bring a little of the Latin American success to Scotland.
Now it's the turn of Govanhill and what an interesting, and challenging, turn it's going to be. El Sistema's orchestras bring together groups with similar experiences – living in slums, living on the Raploch. In Govanhill there are 53 languages spoken and children come from a huge variety of backgrounds. An area perpetually receiving immigrants, Govanhill's latest influx is the Roma, a group that has caused a fair degree of turmoil, not least in regards to housing and schooling. While immigrant groups traditionally begin to assimilate with local cultures, the Roma tend to live parallel, rather than integrated, lives.
Although local schools are making inroads into ensuring Roma children turn up for classes and become active participants, inclusion is tough. If El Sistema works here, with these displaced children, it will be remarkable, for the school population and the community as a whole.
El Sistema's magic is partly in getting the children to want to attend. When I played in my school orchestra many of us came from a background – professional parents, academically successful – where playing an instrument was almost expected. It was fun but it was occasionally a chore, and it certainly wasn't an experience shared by a broad spectrum of the student body. Had it been, I'm sure it would have had a positive impact on every pupil, those who played and those who did not. It will be interesting to see how the system encourages Govanhill's transient young people to turn up and perform.
The only pity of the Big Noise orchestras is that they exist: in a perfect world we would have universal, high-quality, easy access music tuition for all school pupils, though that's not to do a disservice to the many other music projects impacting young lives across Scotland.
Hopefully Big Noise Govanhill will receive the funding and support it needs (last year the In Harmony Sistema project in Norwich shut when its funding was pulled) to succeed.
The young Venezuelan players who have the talent move on to the Simon Bolivar orchestra, where they become international stars. It's wonderful to think that the young children in Govanhill who have nothing now have this opportunity.
My eyes – and ears – are wide open, waiting for the results of this experiment. I hope, and I'm quietly sure, it is going to be extraordinary.
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