In April and May this year, the teachers and young musicians of In Harmony Lambeth, In Harmony Liverpool, Sistema in Norwich and The Nucleo Project welcomed two teachers from Venezuela’s El Sistema, violinist Ron Alvarez and conductor Félix Briceño, to work with them for two weeks each. The exchange was part of the Sharing Notes project led by Sistema England.

For the first two weeks, Félix worked with The Nucleo Project, in North Kensington. ‘We exchanged knowledge and experiences with young musicians, teachers and staff ,’ he said. ‘The team is led by a young, talented and creative director, Lucy Maguire, with whom I’ve been working. We shared lessons, rehearsals and a private concert for parents and families; we discussed ideas, reviewed methods and discussed the future of the programme.’

From 10 May, Félix worked with Sistema in Norwich. He led rehearsals at the programme’s headquarters and Catton Grove Primary, Norwich Primary Academy and Lakenham Primary Academy. ‘In these sessions I observed the creativity and hard work of the teachers; how they adapt methodologies to their context, making it possible not only to teach music but also share values. I was delighted by the use of technology to include children with disabilities. This is having a deep impact on the community’. Félix was especially excited to teach some of the children how to conduct an orchestra. ‘I was so inspired with the leadership and passion of one of the girls, that I gave her my baton to keep!’

For the first two weeks, Ron worked with In Harmony Lambeth, leading sessions at Wheasheaf Hall, Herbert Morrison Primary and St Stephen’s Primary. ‘We focused on the energy, the technique and the discipline of orchestral rehearsals’ he said. ‘I introduced new pieces of repertoire for the two after school ensembles, the Sullivan and the Holst orchestras. The objective at the moment was not for the children to perform the whole pieces perfectly, but to use the music as a resource to help develop great rehearsal habits.’

Ron later travelled to West Everton, where he worked with In Harmony Liverpool. ‘I was very happy to see how many different methodologies are being applied and adapted to benefit the children in West Everton,’ he said. ‘And I was impressed with how music lessons in school are being used to create very good music ensembles. This is something that El Sistema has only stared to do recently, with the Simon Bolivar Project, and I feel there is much that Venezuelan teachers could learn from what is being done in Liverpool.’

‘Great teachers are great learners. Sharing Notes is about exploring methods used by strong music teachers from around the world. Where better to start this journey than with teachers from the original Venezuelan El Sistema? We hope this will be the start of many international exchanges with teachers in England,’ said Fiona Cunningham, CEO of Sistema England.

As part of their visit to England, Ron and Félix will take part in a discussion about best practices at he Sage Gateshead, home of In Harmony Newcastle, and they will lead a rehearsal/workshop at Wheatsheaf Hall.

In Harmony Lambeth is a partnership between Lambeth Council and Southbank Centre. In Harmony Liverpool is led by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Both programmes are part of the national In Harmony initiative, co-funded by the Department for Education and National Lottery through Arts Council England.