Thursday, 7 May 2015

In Harmony

Yesterday I was enthralled by a concert given by the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Hawthorn Primary School, a collaboration facilitated by Sage Gateshead called In Harmony. From the first moment of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings which made the hair on my neck stand up; through Year 5 strings; the wind band, brass band to everyone performing part of 'A Tuba Train' specially written by Stephen Deazley from an idea by Year 6, the concert thrilled the audience of proud parents.

For the last three years every child starting Hawthorn Primary school in Elswick has been given a classical musical instrument and the whole school has been learning to play together alongside professional Royal Northern Sinfonia musicians. Headteacher Judy Cowgill explained excitedly that it gives the children 'experiences they would never otherwise have'.

As well as Newcastle, there are In Harmony projects in deprived areas of 4 other English cities all jointly funded by the Department for Education and Arts Council England. In Harmony seeks to transform the lives of children, young people and their communities through the power of music making.

You could see that happening before your eyes. Boys and girls of all races and faiths making music together listened to by their parents. So much to be proud of, so much to talk about at home and in the neighbourhood, so many new experiences for adults as well as children, admiration and encouragement from parents and teachers alike.

Such a wonderful idea and such a crazy idea - 'let's give a quality musical instrument to every child in a primary school in a deprived part of the city, teach them to play together and get a professional orchestra to play alongside them.' It takes passion and vision to turn a mad idea like that into a reality that works.

The founders of Children North East had a crazy idea - 'let's take a couple of hundred children from the poorest parts of town to the seaside for a day; and let's do it for different children every week during the spring, summer and autumn every year so they get healthier from the fresh air and sunshine.' With the benefit of hindsight its common sense, but at the time some would have thought it madness, ridiculous, impossible. Yet it happened every year from 1891 to the 1930s.

We need crazy ideas in the north east today. Crazy ideas for employment, for housing, for food, for the environment, for children, for young people, for families, for neighbourhoods, for society, for the joy of living.

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