Scotland’s vital and thriving musical landscape can also help to improve lives and communities
In a field in the shadow of Stirling Castle on midsummer’s eve, the eyes of the world were upon the Raploch estate as the area hosted the Big Concert, one of the opening events of the London 2012 Olympic festival. Formerly synonymous with crime, poverty and violence, the Raploch’s reputation has undergone a significant overhaul – with the help of music.
The Scottish version of El Sistema, a longrunning Venezuelan project, Big Noise was established in Raploch in 2008. Big Noise is officially partnered with the Venezuelan programme and has the same aim – to transform lives with music. The programme uses musicmaking to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part – and across their wider community. Children in Raploch and at Castleview begin Big Noise in nursery, learning about their chosen instruments through making paper replicas. In P1 they move on to the real instrument and join the string orchestra. The current generation of children will continue throughout primary school and into their teens. A typical Big Noise child is with the orchestra for seven hours a week at an after school club, up to 20 hours a week during holidays, attends up to six concerts a year, performs at six concerts a year, and has three ‘Take a Musician Home for Tea’ visits, when children play music in different households and often to other neighbours too. Big Noise is now well established in Raploch.
The Raploch Big Concert, which attracted an audience of thousands on midsummer’s eve, despite torrential rain, saw the children of the Big Noise orchestra performing with the worldfamous Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Dudamel is patron of Sistema Scotland and his own musical education began in El Sistema.
The scheme is an example of how music can help to change lives in Scotland’s communities. In 2008, just one child among 3,000 people living on the Raploch estate was learning a musical instrument. Now 450 are part of the children’s orchestra and while still in its infancy, the project has already received a positive report from an independent report commissioned by the Scottish Government.
The report states: “There is evidence that Big Noise is having a positive impact on children’s personal and social development, including increased confidence, self-esteem, a sense of achievement and pride, improved social skills, team working skills and expanded social networks. For those children with special educational needs, behaviour issues or unsettled home lives, particular benefits include a sense of belonging, improved ability to concentrate and focus on a task, a sense of responsibility and positive behaviour change.”
While organisers say it is too early to measure long-term positive effects of membership of the orchestra, the report says it is “well placed to achieve a range of outcomes, including greater engagement in learning, higher academic performance, reduction in negative and health-harming behaviours, benefits to families, employers and communities, and better employability skills”. A survey of parents and carers conducted as part of the research found that as a result of Big Noise, 100 per cent thought their children were more confident, 93 per cent thought their children were happier, 79 per cent thought they were more willing to concentrate, and 43 per cent thought they behaved better.
However, Big Noise is not the only project making musical waves in communities across Scotland. Last month, Drake Music Scotland held a widely acclaimed concert in Edinburgh to help celebrate the charity’s 15th anniversary. Since 1997, Drake Music Scotland has been creating opportunities across Scotland for over 6,000 children and adults with disabilities to learn, compose and perform music independently. Using both conventional instruments and inclusive technologies, the charity delivers a range of education and training projects enabling participants to make music to whatever level they aspire. Drake Music Scotland is the nation’s leading arts organisation providing music-making opportunities for people with disabilities. At the recent concert, the first half featured music played and composed by pupils from the project, while the second half was dedicated to the worldwide premiere of Scots composer Oliver Searle’s piece Technophonia which was written as one of this year’s 20 UK-wide Cultural Olympiad works commissioned by the Performing Rights Society (PRS).
Speaking to PRS, Searle said: “I had heard a lot about Drake Music Scotland in the past, but had never met any of the individuals involved in the organisation. I was interested in being included in a project such as this, due to my research with cochlear implant users around the world – most recently I have been touring a piece of music theatre for young, deaf children – and have long been intrigued by creating an environment in which people who often do not get the opportunity to listen to music, and perform, are able to do so.
“The performers in this work will have a direct role in the creative process, as I will be working with several individuals directly, quite some time before the direction of the overall piece is decided, to develop what they are able to do on each of their chosen instruments, as well as to encourage improvisation as a means to create blocks of musical material. This will feed into the final composition, influencing the ultimate direction, structure and sound world of the finished piece. The plan is to perform this work in several cities, thus reaching a wide audience of people. Also, due to the very nature of this work and its performers, using instruments such as Brainfingers and Skoog, we hope that those who experience it live will rethink their attitudes towards the nature of musical performance.” Drake Music Scotland will perform the piece in London at the New Music 20 x 12 Weekend Celebration in July.
Music can be useful in many different ways and provides entertainment as well as social benefits. Scotland has long been famous for producing some of the most talented and famous names in the music industry. From the Eurythmics and the Bluebells to Paolo Nutini and Calvin Harris, Scotland is well known for its musical talent. John Preston worked for more than 25 years at the highest level in the music industry and was chairman of BMG Records for the UK and Ireland in the late 1990s as well as Chairman of the British Phonographic Industry. He is now retired and living in Edinburgh.
Speaking to Holyrood, he said: “In terms of the Scottish music industry, I have not been directly involved in it but I had Scottish artists on my label. I had the Eurythmics, Eddi Reader, Evelyn Glennie and the Bluebells. In a way, that tells you something about the Scottish music industry then because they were all signed to labels in the south.
“There have been internationally successful artists who have been managed by Scottish managers and there are international artists brought into the country by Scottish promoters but the industry itself, and particularly the recording industry, has really been in the south and if you wanted to make an international career, you made a deal with one of the Londonbased record companies. Music-making in Scotland is very healthy but the industry aspect of it tends to be coloured by the fact that it is a small, domestic market.”
However, moves are being made to ensure Scotland remains prominent on the international scene. On 19 June the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award ceremony was held in Glasgow. The prize has been billed as the equivalent of the Mercury Music Prize and was established to reward and promote the diversity and creativity of music and art in Scotland. Developed by the Scottish Music Industry Association (SMIA), in partnership with Creative Scotland, the award recognises the most outstanding albums released by Scottish artists in 2011. The SAY Award placed its focus on artistic merit rather than sales history, genre or label affiliation, offering £20,000 to the winning album and £1,000 to each of the nine runners-up.
This year Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat’s Everything’s Getting Older was crowned winner, with the judging panel of esteemed industry experts united in its praise of the album’s creativity and innovation. Moffat, who was one of the founding members of Arab Strap, said the award was about introducing people to a wide variety of different types of music and added that it is “very, very important from an industry point of view too”.
Stewart Henderson, chairman of SMIA, said: “It’s wonderful after over a year of the planning and development of this award to finally have a winner, and a winner deserving of all of the hard work that’s gone into this award. I’m thrilled for Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat; Everything’s Getting Older is a fantastic album. It’s a worthy winner and has set an incredibly high standard for future winners to follow.”