Authorities make a play for Sistema Scotland

Four LAs may adopt a music scheme that supporters say changes lives

Emma Seith

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Four Scottish local authorities are looking to adopt a music scheme that has transformed the lives of children in South America and Stirling.

Sistema Scotland, which runs the Big Noise project in the deprived Raploch area of Stirling, is optimistic that its next orchestra will play in Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife or Glasgow by next year. Ultimately, it hopes to have a presence in each area.

George Anderson, Sistema Scotland spokesman, said: "We are well established now and ready to roll elsewhere as soon as possible. The model clearly works and does what we hoped it would do."

In Aberdeen and Fife the development of the Sistema approach is being driven by the council, in Dundee by Labour MSP Jenny Marra, and in Glasgow by Govanhill Housing Association.

Sistema Scotland set out in 2008 to fully fund the orchestra in Raploch for five years, to prove Venezuelan model El Sistema could work in Scotland. The movement, which began in Venezuela in 1975, immerses children in music making, and focuses on ensemble playing from the start, so that participants learn discipline and cooperation.

Since it began its mission, Sistema Scotland has raised pound;3.5 million and its five-year commitment ends next summer. From that point Stirling Council will take on more responsibility for funding in its own area, with Sistema Scotland covering 25 per cent of running costs.

Sistema Scotland hopes to replicate this model at each new centre.

The charity is also trying to secure funding from the Scottish government. One model that has been mooted would see 25 per cent of the funds coming from Sistema; 25 per cent from the Scottish government; and 50 per cent from the local authority.

In Fife, music instruction was cut by 25 per cent in 2010. At that time the council committed itself to investigating the use of trusts and other methods of engaging young people in music.

Sistema Scotland, however, targeted specific communities and was not a universal music service, stressed Mr Anderson.

"Mainstream music provision is something that has its own value and while our orchestra looks and sounds the same as any other to the lay person, it is doing a different job," he said. "We are specifically about using a symphony orchestra to transform the lives of children and prefer to be looked at as a social programme rather than an artistic one."

The council estimates that introducing a Sistema Scotland orchestra in Fife, covering the catchments of two primary schools, would cost around pound;350,000 each year.

There was a "will to make every effort to turn aspirations on this matter to a reality", it said.

Aberdeen City Council, meanwhile, is also interested in forming a partnership with Sistema Scotland. The council believes this could cut youth crime costs.


In 2008 Big Noise was launched in Raploch, one of the most deprived areas in Scotland. Today three-quarters of primary-aged children are in the orchestra programme, some 450 youngsters.

Children attend lessons three evenings a week after school and five days a week during the holidays.

Research published by the Scottish government last year concluded that Sistema Scotland had the potential "to achieve social transformation". Of the parents questioned, all felt their children were more confident, more than 90 per cent felt their children were happier, nearly 80 per cent thought they were more willing to concentrate, and 43 per cent thought they behaved better.

On midsummer night (June 21) Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela will perform an outdoor concert in the heart of Raploch, with a special guest appearance by Big Noise.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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