The pizzas – as one of the children put it – were massive, but what was even larger were the smiles of the young musicians last Sunday, after they performed at Milan’s Dal Verme theatre. It was the end of an adventure that started with an invitation from Sistema England and Sistema Italia, that had most of the children get on an airplane for the first time in their lives, and that has made everybody at In Harmony Telford and Old Park Primary extremely proud.

The ten young musicians were selected through auditions held at the office of Mrs Mandie Haywood, headteacher at Old Park. The result was a very cool ensemble composed of Jamie, Tyler and James in the violins, Niamh in the cello, Cole in the clarinet, Bethan in the flute, Laurie-le in the French horn, twins Harvey and Dylan in the bassoons and Trinity in the percussion.

The children travelled to Italy on 20 May, accompanied by staff from Old Park, In Harmony and Sistema England. They performed at the church of San Giovanni Battista in Robecco sul Naviglio, the headquarters of Sistema Lombardia in Milan and the Teatro Dal Verme.

‘It was a bit frightening,’ said Jamie, 10, about playing alongside the much more advanced and older musicians of Sistema Lombardia from Italy and Kaposoka Orchestra from Angola. ‘But I felt really good with myself because I managed to do it.’ A beaming Niamh, also 10, said: ‘There was this one part that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but then I played it and it actually went really well.’ Cole, 10 as well, was particularly proud because he managed to perform “Shalom”, a piece that had been reserved for the most advanced children. ‘I was sitting there and I saw that I was the only clarinet that wasn’t playing it, so I started to read it and I realized I could do it, so I played it!’ he said.

Ian Thomas, director of In Harmony Telford, explained that this trip to Italy, part of the SMEEC project led by Sistema England and match-funded by the Culture Programme of the European Union, aimed to help the young musicians ‘gain confidence, self-esteem, team-work, and develop peer leadership and support.’

The children rehearsed and performed with Italian conductor Carlo Taffuri, who very gently pushed them out of their comfort zone. Other key moments included an Angolan violinist teaching Jamie, Tyler and James how to play vibrato, and young wind players sharing advice with Cole and Laurie-le.

Louise Ashton, a Year 6 teacher at Old Park, celebrated that the children worked with the older musicians, who are ‘at the next level’. ‘This gives them something to aspire to. They’ve just really enjoyed being here and they’ve risen to the challenge every time, and exceeded our expectations.’

In Harmony Telford, led by Telford & Wrekin Music Service, is part of the national In Harmony initiative co-funded by the Department for Education and National Lottery through Arts Council England.

The SMEEC project (Sistema-inspired Music Education and Exchange with Canada), a major international collaboration led by Sistema England, which aims to allow children from Sistema-inspired programmes on both sides of the Atlantic to get together to perform and is match-funded by the European Union’s Culture Programme. 130 children in total from Sistema programmes in England are participating in SMEEC. Young musicians and teachers will gather in Gothenburg in June for a mass ‘Side by Side’ performance led by Gustavo Dudamel, and travel to Toronto in July to perform as part of the Pan American Games. Organisations working in partnership with Sistema England to make this project possible are SONG Onlus of Italy, European Mozart Ways and Go-operate.

The SMEEC project was match-funded by the European Union’s Culture Programme.