Julian Lloyd Webber: I'm doing a Dudamel over here

The Venezuelan conductor showed how poor children could become musicians. Julian Lloyd Webber explains how he was determined to do the same here. The result can be seen at the Proms on Sunday

On the night of August 19 2007, I was one among thousands of transfixed listeners in a sweltering Royal Albert Hall watching the young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel putting the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra through its paces. Like everyone else in the audience, I was captivated by the young players' extraordinary passion and musicianship in Shostakovich's epic Tenth Symphony, and suitably caught up in the exuberance they exuded in Bernstein's Mambo. Here was world class playing of the highest professional standard – but what really struck a chord with me was that these children were not from privileged, moneyed backgrounds. Far from it. They were products of Venezuela's extraordinary social programme El Sistema, which – through the power of making music together – has saved many hundreds of thousands of children from lives of poverty and crime. So when I was asked, just a few weeks after the concert, by Schools Minister Andrew Adonis if I wanted to lead a similar programme in England, I didn't miss a beat. For if there is one single thread that has run through my life as a musician, it is my resolute belief that music is for everyone.

When I first attended lessons at the Royal College of Music Junior Department in the early 1960s, I soon became self-conscious that I was one of only a very few pupils who attended a fee-paying school. Sadly, that position is now completely reversed – almost all their pupils are at fee-paying schools. So it's to the present government's credit that not only is it continuing to back the In Harmony programme – which aims to bring music to every child – but that it has already expanded it from three to six projects. Why would they do that? As we were recently forcefully reminded by our Minister for the Arts, the government expects to see tangible results from its funding. Well, In Harmony is providing tangible results in spades!

In April 2009, following 18 months of preparation, In Harmony began with three pilot projects in the most disadvantaged areas of Lambeth, Liverpool and Norwich. It proved so successful that last year the Coalition Government (with support from Arts Council England) started four additional projects in Leeds, Gateshead, Nottingham, and Telford. At the same time, other Sistema-inspired programmes in England began to spring up independently. And now, on 1 September – almost exactly six years after the sensational Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra Prom – comes the icing on the cake: children from In Harmony Liverpool will appear on that same Royal Albert Hall platform, alongside the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Proms. It will be 'lump in the throat' time for everyone who has been involved with In Harmony from the outset. A mere four years after its beginning, this is a magnificent achievement that shows just how far the children have progressed musically in an incredibly short space of time.

The Prom will also be a celebration of the personal journeys of In Harmony Liverpool's children, as well as demonstrating the pride and resilience of one of England's poorest communities. Most importantly, it will be a testament to music's power to change lives. And, beyond doubt, lives have been changed at West Everton's Faith Primary School, where In Harmony Liverpool is based.

In 2008 – before In Harmony – only 35 per cent of children at the school were achieving the required level of literacy. By 2010 – less than two years after In Harmony began there – that figure had jumped to more than 80 per cent, with a similar improvement also recorded in pupil's numeracy.

To quote from its 2012 Ofsted report: "It is very clear that participation in the 'In Harmony' programme has a much wider benefit for the pupils' personal and social development, as well as for their general educational attainment. While recognising the school's good fortune in being involved with the 'In Harmony' project, parents and staff speak passionately about the way that involvement in music has changed children's attitudes and expectations. As one parent said, 'music has given our children respect for themselves, respect for each other, and respect for education'."

Yet, in all honesty, when I was first invited to Venezuela in 2008 by El Sistema's founder, José Antonio Abreu, I had heard so much hype about El Sistema that I was more than ready to be disappointed. I can only say that the reality was more impressive than anything I'd been led to believe. From that point on, I became determined that as many people as possible involved with Sistema-based programmes in England should experience El Sistema.

Earlier this year, the Sistema England charity, which I chair, sent project leaders and music tutors from In Harmony to Venezuela to see El Sistema at first hand. They visited nucleos (community centres) across the country and talked with individual children, parents and tutors; and they met the inspirational Antonio Abreu, They saw that, even though it is primarily a social programme, there is no social change without the achievement of musical excellence. Only when the children see that, through hard work, they can perform even the most challenging music, do they then gain the confidence to strive towards anything else they may want in life. The English tutors also met Lennar Acosta, a young man who grew up in the streets of Caracas, leading a life of crime, until the power of music inspired him to change. In his words: "I exchanged my gun for a clarinet". Like so many others, music transformed Lennar's life, and he now leads a nucleo that engages 1,000 children from the barrios of Caracas.

El Sistema's success has become a global phenomenon – all over the world, Sistema-inspired programmes are springing up almost every day, regardless of political system. The key to their success is that they are not just music education projects; they are social programmes with music at their heart. When times are tough, the strain on communities becomes greater. Music can be the inspiration – even the glue if you like – that can bind them together, because music demands equality. It knows no boundaries of language, race or background. All the players are equal – working and playing together In Harmony. See it for yourself on 1 September.

In Harmony will make their debut in Prom 66 at the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040; bbc.co.uk/proms) in 'The Big Proms Bear Hunt' on 1 September at 4pm

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own