AT THE height of the global financial crisis in 2009 when the world's finance ministers gathered in St Andrews to attempt to contain the recession, the orchestra from the Raploch in Stirling brought tears to the eyes of Mervyn King, then Governor of the Bank of England.

Later a little girl offered him her commiserations when he revealed, to her amazement, that unlike her he was unable to play a musical instrument.

At that time the Big Noise orchestra in Stirling, under the banner of Sistema Scotland, had been together for only one year. Now it is six years old, and has played for the Queen in Stirling Castle and the great and the good from home and abroad. There is a Big Noise orchestra in Govanhill in Glasgow and preparations are in hand for Big Noise Torry in Aberdeen to begin in the spring of next year.

Had that little girl from Stirling not played in Big Noise Raploch, the odds were against her playing an instrument at all, and the chances of her meeting Lord King, far less having the confidence to give him some advice, were minimal. Since then the orchestra has gone from strength to strength, and at the opening of the Commonwealth Games 190 children from Govanhill and Raploch combined their talents to accompany Nicola Benedetti.

In Raploch to date the spin-off is a Wind Band, Concert Band, Dixie Band, Purple Orchestra, Red Orchestra, Rinconada String Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra. This year 13 children successfully auditioned for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, 15 are members of the National Youth Choir of Scotland Stirling area choir, four gained places at the Junior Conservatoire of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and one has been invited to St Mary's (specialist) Music School. A success story in any book, more so in an area once known only for social problems and its high crime rate.

The core purpose of the programme is to bring about social transformation, empowering children to succeed in every area of their lives. Musical accomplishment, albeit important, is only part of the story. There will be a minority for whom playing in the orchestras will pave the way for a musical career but for the overwhelming majority the programme is designed to imbue children and parents with a sense of hope and purpose.

The Scottish Government has acknowledged its transformational potential. Parents, teachers, and councillors report increased confidence and self-esteem in children and adults, better integrated communities, improved team work and a greater sense of purpose. All good.

But now along comes a bombshell. Geoffrey Baker, a music lecturer at the Royal Holloway University, will publish a book this month in which he condemns El Sistema as a "model of tyranny". His criticism implicitly raises questions about Sistema's UK activities. Interestingly, Mr Baker has never visited Sistema Scotland.

In Venezuala, the home of El Sistema, Mr Baker alleges it is characterised variously as a cult and a corporation. He casts aspersions on governance and relationships between students and teachers, questions its commitment to programmes in deprived areas, and alleges no proof of success.

Of course, El Sistema will not all be perfect. Few ambitious, radical programmes ever are. Equally, criticism should be levelled when deserved, but before the headline writers give too much credence to Mr Baker they should think twice. Transformational behaviour is hard enough at the best of times. When the children and adults committed to improving the lives of others wake up to cynical sensationalism the challenges become ever harder.

Audit Scotland and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health are collaborating on a massive research project. Sistema's Scottish team are looking forward to in-depth research "capturing and measuring the vibe we already get". Education Scotland is to publish a report very soon. Sistema Scotland is an independent charity, its finances highly transparent.

From Mr Baker's perspective, in his ivory tower, publicity for his book may be of paramount importance. Where Sistema really matters the book should be ignored.