Skip to main content Skip to site map (in footer)

An entire school embarks on a musical journey at the launch of In Harmony Leeds

  • Date: 7 December 2012
  • Area: North
Man playing trombone. Two boys watching.

The children of Windmill Primary School, Belle Isle, Leeds, experience the power of The Orchestra of Opera North at the launch of In Harmony Leeds. Credit: Simon Dewhurst

Today saw the launch of In Harmony Leeds, an ambitious community-based music project led by Opera North working with Windmill Primary School, in the Belle Isle area of South Leeds. In Harmony Leeds aims to improve the wellbeing and academic attainment of 350 children in the school, as well as reach the wider community, through intensive, community music-making and high quality tuition.

In Harmony is a national programme in England, based on the highly successful El Sistema programme of youth orchestras in Venezuela, which transforms the lives of young people using the power and disciplines of orchestral music-making.

As part of the launch, children from Windmill Primary School attended a special interactive event with the Orchestra of Opera North. It was, for many of the children, the first close encounter with the power of a full orchestra in action. During the launch, they learned about the musical journey upon which they are about to embark. Each child also discovered that they will receive their own musical instrument as well as taking part in daily music lessons, choirs and orchestras.

Other workshops and outreach activities will range from a community choir to pop-up performances by musicians from the Orchestra of Opera North in shops and living rooms, extending the reach of In Harmony Leeds throughout the local community to include adults and older children. Opera North intends to focus on music-making within the family and will also run sessions for parents and 0-4 year olds in Windmill Children's Centre. More than 150 secondary school pupils from the area will also take part.

In Harmony Leeds will focus on the children and wider school community of Windmill Primary, aiming to transform aspirations and attainment for children. The school, where 92% of children come from families classified as 'hard-pressed' and 70% are eligible for free school meals, was selected through consultation with Leeds City Council, based on the potential to create the greatest impact for children and their families.

Rebecca Walsh, education director at Opera North, comments: "We are so excited about launching In Harmony Leeds with this event today, which really placed the children we'll be working with at the heart of the action. They have had an exciting, close-up view of an orchestra playing some of the most famous and exhilarating pieces of classical music just for them, including excerpts of works by Britten, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Saint-Saëns.

"In Harmony Leeds is the first project of its kind to be delivered by an opera company, and singing will be a major part of their day-to-day experience of the project - something that all children can relate to and participate in right from the start. Each child will receive their own musical instrument and learn how to play it, using a model whereby they help each other to improve by playing together, as well as performing with professional musicians."

Headteacher of Windmill Primary School, Sally Sumpner, said: "From the moment I learned that In Harmony would be coming to Windmill Primary School, I've been so excited to tell all of the children about the project and to let them know what a fantastic experience it is going to be for the whole school. Watching them find out all about the project today, and seeing the orchestra for the first time, has been quite emotional - and this is only the first step. I can't wait for all the instruments to arrive now so that we can get started properly!"

Cluny Macpherson, Regional Director, Arts Council England, said: "If you are involved with Windmill Primary School you should be very, very excited about this project. In Harmony is a unique and intensive music programme - with a proven international record in making people's lives better. Opera North's involvement will not only help to raise the aspirations of children through orchestral music-making, but it also has the potential to transform the lives of parents. I can't wait to see the project in action, to talk to participants, and to hear some great music of course!" 

The pioneering project, one of four new In Harmony community development projects announced in July 2012, will be funded by Arts Council England, the Department for Education and Opera North over three years between 2013 and 2015. It is the first In Harmony project in Yorkshire and the only one nationally that is delivered by an opera company.

Pilot In Harmony projects in England have previously taken place in Liverpool, London and Norwich. The project, inspired by the huge success of El Sistema, is chaired by cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber. The desired outcomes for children, in addition to the development of musical skills, are improved wellbeing, self-confidence and social skills, and improved attainment in literacy and numeracy.

To deliver a  sustainable future for In Harmony Leeds, beyond the three year funding from Arts Council England and the Department for Education, Opera North is looking to secure long term investment from the private sector and individual philanthropy, as well as the local authority. Land Securities and Evans Property Group have already agreed to support the project and Opera North is confident that other members of the business community in Leeds, together with private donors, will want to join this transformational venture.