Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 00:40 UK

El Sistema is music to the ears

By Jo Perry
Central reporter, BBC Scotland news website

El Sistema youngsters playing the violin
A quarter of a million students in Venezuela take part in the project

When a group of young musicians from Raploch take to the stage on Friday for their first performance, there will be many in the audience hoping a time of dramatic change and improved opportunity has finally arrived.

The 50 young violin, viola and cello players who attend schools in the new Raploch Community Campus are part of El Sistema, or The System, which looks to transform the lives of deprived youngsters through music.

First piloted in the barrios of Venezuela more than 30 years ago, the project aims to create not just an orchestra but enduring generational change.

Residents in Raploch have long fought to alter its image as an area associated with high crime rates and unemployment.

The lives of locals were featured in the BBC production Raploch Stories in 2003.

Although its reputation is for many unfair and sensationalist, the area's primary school children are the first in the UK to be offered the chance to take part in El Sistema.

'Both hands'

Funded by the Scottish Arts Council and private donors, the project, called The Big Noise, provides young children with tuition and instruments free of charge to create an orchestra of world class musicians.

The emphasis of the scheme is on group learning rather than a child practicing alone, while music tutors are specially chosen for their charisma and enthusiasm.

At present the scheme involves children up to the age of eight practicing three hours a week.

Following the summer holidays, lessons will be incorporated into the school curriculum.

The name Raploch has been synonymous with drugs, drink and anti-social behaviour but really it's not like that at all
Anne Stewart
Head teacher Raploch PS

Eventually organisers hope it will be available to all children in the area from the day they are born.

The scheme is a long term initiative which can take years to show "measurable results".

Nicola Killean, director of Sistema Scotland, said: "It's not just an education programme, we want to empower the community and grow future orchestras and create a 21st Century charity."

A quarter of a million students in Venezuela now take part in the programme, which has been hailed a huge success.

Raploch PS head teacher Anne Stewart, who has taught at the school since 1978, said it was "incredible" to walk through the campus at lunchtime and hear youngsters openly practicing with their instruments.

She said: "You cannot compare the living conditions of the children in Venezuela with the children in Raploch. But having said that, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for our children to have access to free musical tuition and free instruments because they would never be able to afford that or even think that they could do it.

"There is a lack of opportunity for some in Raploch more than a lack of aspiration.

"The parents in Raploch are the same as parents anywhere in that they want the best for their kids and when they see an opportunity like this that they can be part of, well they've grabbed it with both hands.

Venezuelan youth orchestra
The project began in the slums of Caracas more than 30 years ago

"I couldn't believe it when I was showing a friend round the new campus the other day and there were children actually sitting playing violins already.

"This is an area that for many years has not had a good press.

"The name Raploch has been synonymous with drugs, drink and anti-social behaviour but really it's not like that at all and I think Raploch Stories proved that. There is a lot of good folk in Raploch who do well."

The youngsters from Raploch Primary, Our Lady's Primary, Castleview special needs school and Raploch nursery, who only received their instruments last week, are performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

In the audience will be Culture Minister Linda Fabiani, the Venezuelan Ambassador Dr Samuel Moncada and Richard Holloway, the director of the Scottish Arts Council.

Those involved hope the project will not only create a group of talented musicians but inspire future generations across the country.

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