Music is Power. Rise Up!
In the old folks’ home across the road windows were thrown open to let in the noise, while nosy locals promenaded past in droves to gawp at a previously derelict field. Located in Raploch, a housing estate in the shadow of Stirling Castle but better known for being one of the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland, this wasteland last week became the centre of attention as it was transformed to host a massive stage, 8,000 spectators and a horde of TV crews and journalists.
However, a transformation has taken place here that is much more than cosmetic, and far from temporary.
Since 2008, when the charity Sistema Scotland was set up, primary and pre-school children have been receiving music lessons, leading to the formation of the Big Noise orchestra. This is a sister project to the El Sistema scheme in Venezuela, established in 1975 to give poor, troubled youngsters a chance in life. On June 21, for the opening gala concert of the London 2012 Festival, 400 kids from Big Noise shared a stage with the world-famous Simón Bolívar Orchestra, led by powerhouse conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
Broadcast on the BBC and lavished with media attention, it was a tremendous accolade to be the showpiece of such a high-profile festival. But after the cameras depart, it is evident that this is a project with real heart and soul, which epitomises the transformative power of music, not just on one showbizzy night but all year round. Musician Joëlle Fenna has been involved since the start. “I’ve seen big changes in the children,” she says. “Four years ago you’d be lucky if you got five minutes’ work out of the class in 40 minutes. Now, the children will rehearse for up to three hours a night and it’s work all the time. That’s a huge change – motivation, concentration and being aware of themselves, that they are achieving something.
“Their families tell us they do more things now as a family because of their involvement in music, which is really amazing. Even people that haven’t been directly involved have a lot of pride in it. It is an incredible achievement for everyone on Raploch to have the concert staged here, rather than London or somewhere else.”
At the helm on the night was exuberant, much-loved conductor Gustavo Dudamel, himself a product of
El Sistema in Venezuela. Now conductor of the highly respected Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, music
director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, he was said to be “very proud” of the achievements in Raploch.