In Harmony Liverpool Research Network: exploring the cultural value of the orchestra as a community intervention

Lead Research Organisation: Liverpool John Moores University
Department Name: Liverpool School of Art and Design


In Harmony Liverpool is one of three pilot music intervention programmes in England inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema initiative. Led by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the programme uses the symphony orchestra as a means of engaging young children (aged 4 years upwards) in orchestral music education and performance, as part of the Sistema philosophy of working with children from the most deprived parts of the country.

Since February 2009, the commissioned evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool has consistently indicated positive impacts of the scheme upon participating children, families and the community as a whole. These include indicators such as educational attainment, community wellbeing, social capital and civic engagement. The In Harmony Liverpool Research Network will bring together a national and international community of interest to explore these emerging findings in greater depth, and consider the causal relationships between early years musical interventions and their social and economic impacts upon communities, including a closer consideration of the role of music education and different approaches to it; the ways in which cultural capital is developed in communities and the value of cultural interventions; the potential for longer term social, cultural and economic impacts in relation to lifelong wellbeing and community resilience.

Across all of these themes, the network will also discuss questions raised about cultural value, its comparative impact and measurement, especially as an alternative to other community interventions and capital investment initiatives. This will be achieved via a series of workshop events, digital communications and a full-day conference, each designed to encourage the development of longer-term collaborative research opportunities.

Planned Impact

There are a number of communities of practice/interest, outside of academia, who will be invited to participate in and potentially benefit from the activities and outcomes of the proposed research network, these include but are not limited to:

Cultural organisations and practitioners: with a cultural intervention (In Harmony Liverpool) as its focus, the network will be of significant interest to arts and cultural sectors, especially those practitioners with an interest in arts education in community settings; participation and engagement of young children; cultural learning and pedagogy; the social, cultural and economic impact of cultural action and intervention.

Schools and education providers: In Harmony Liverpool is delivered in a community primary school, and has inspired interesting observations on partnerships between schools and arts organisations, alternative curriculum and music education practices and methods. As such, the network is also of relevance and potential interest to teaching communities.

Health agencies and service providers: the network will contribute to growing debates on the relationship between art and health and wellbeing, and will be of interest to health practitioners, rehabilitation workers and social service providers with professional experience in this area.

Cultural policy and advocacy agencies: bodies such as Arts Council England and the Department for Culture Media and Sport are key stakeholders in the proposed discussions, especially in relation to debates on cultural value and long-term socio-economic impacts of cultural action and interventions. Equivalent international bodies also have much to learn from national cultural investments such as the Sistema movement, which already has considerable international acclaim. A dedicated research programme on its cultural value should have significant policy-related appeal.

Local and national government: furthermore, due to its relationship with a number of government objectives (and associated learning outcomes) as identified above, applicants will endeavour to engage local and national government representatives with the network and its findings, to help shape national and international policy on cultural value.

Other potential interested parties include charities, voluntary groups and third sector organisations working in communities.


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Description The In Harmony Liverpool Research Network has brought together an international community of interest to consider and debate the impact and value of the In Harmony Liverpool programme, led by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (RLP). Inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema initiative, In Harmony Liverpool uses the symphony orchestra as a means of engaging young children (aged 4 years upwards) in music education and performance, adopting the Sistema philosophy of working with children from the most deprived parts of the country. Launched in 2009 and now one of six programmes supported by the national charity In Harmony Sistema England, In Harmony Liverpool has become an embedded feature of cultural life in Liverpool's West Everton community.

The network was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) August 2012 - July 2013, as part of the cross-council Connected Communities programme, and led by the ICC's Kerry Wilson (Principal Investigator), in association with Professor Jude Robinson, University of Liverpool (Co-investigator) and project partners RLP and the Royal Northern College of Music. Its formation was prompted and inspired by the commissioned evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool (2009-12), which has consistently indicated a range of positive impacts upon participating children, their families and the West Everton community, and made a number of operational and strategic recommendations regarding the programme's on-going effectiveness. The network was convened to begin to consider in more critical depth emerging ideas concerning the potential long-term social and economic value of In Harmony Liverpool, which have been organised using three distinct but inter-related research themes.

Between March and May 2013, the network participated in three research workshops (one per theme) to explore and debate both evaluation findings, and related interests within the context of existing interdisciplinary research. Workshop participants included academic colleagues from a range of disciplines, including centres for research on Socio-Cultural Change (University of Manchester); Applied Educational Research (University of Strathclyde); and Health Inequalities (University of Liverpool). Other participants have included Sistema experts from New England Conservatory, Boston, USA and In Harmony Sistema England programmes; local authority and health trusts; and key In Harmony Liverpool representatives including the RLP education team and the programme's independent evaluators.

Workshop 1 - Cultural Capital in the Community (22 March 2013)

Our discussions on the research theme of Cultural Capital in the Community exposed some epistemological challenges - and therefore research opportunities - linked to the idea and practice of In Harmony Liverpool's primary objective as a social project that uses a cultural intervention as a means rather than an end. This was problematic for some participants in raising questions on the significance of the cultural intervention if purely designed to fulfil social objectives, including would any other type of intervention requiring less unique professional commitment have the same impact? There are potentially risks involved and missed learning opportunities if not fully considering the cultural impact - particularly in terms of musical and artistic capacity - of a major strategic music education intervention. Other implications of In Harmony Liverpool as a social mission were discussed within the context of previous research on El Sistema, and on cultural capital from sociological and educational perspectives. There is a fundamental question of community cohesion or fragmentation that should be considered in light of a long tradition of social 'betterment' amongst the working classes. Is the overarching ideology of In Harmony Liverpool, and El Sistema more broadly, to improve chances for individuals or to improve the 'equality of condition' in communities themselves? In this context, network discussions complement a growing appetite within the cultural policy research community to reframe this particular discourse beyond established, Bourdieauan paradigms of individual cultural capital and socio-economic status, and build a more pertinent understanding of collective, contemporary cultural capital and its relative value. This is driven by a succession of recent cultural policy initiatives in the UK specifically that were driven by an explicit notion of increased access, inclusion and engagement within the 'legitimate' arts, alongside a desire for a greater acknowledgement and understanding of existing and different forms of community cultural heritage, identities, production and practices.

Workshop 2 - Healthy Communities (18 April)

The Healthy Communities research workshop was designed to begin to unpack some of the tentative health indicators emerging from the commissioned evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool, including an attitudinal shift within West Everton concerning parental responsibility and proactive engagement with health professionals at preventive stages, each pointing to longer-term implications for the collective heath, wellbeing and resilience of the community. Evaluation findings also suggest strong 'motivational' indicators such as improved confidence and self-esteem. Workshop participants agreed that there remains an imperative to "move beyond symptom impact" in such studies, in order to fully understand the underlying causes of 'symptoms' such as low self-esteem, and truly consider the impact of cultural interventions on 'root cause' medical health as well as symptomatic wellbeing. This requires participatory methodologies that reflect the inherent qualities of the community-based interventions being assessed, in order to accurately identify "directly attributable" consistent changes in health values and behaviours. In this respect, In Harmony Liverpool presents a fully immersive intervention, with a number of social and cultural contexts that could facilitate a hugely informative longitudinal study of health and wellbeing. A number of conditions and caveats were offered to ensure the validity and reliability of such research. A comparative framework, including baseline indicators, control groups and comparative case studies relating to other forms of intervention and cultural participation, was recommended.

Workshop 3 - Music Education & Impact (14 May 2013)

During our third research workshop, the network began to consider some of the professional implications of In Harmony Liverpool and the Sistema movement in relation to music education policy and practice, professional musicianship, and the leadership role of iconic cultural institutions such as the RLP. Insightful, reflexive ideas on how emerging research questions can also shape the future development of RLP as a learning organisation were discussed. As the success of In Harmony Liverpool is based on relationships at several levels - between musicians on a day-to-day basis, and at a more strategic level between collaborating organisations - understanding the learning process is critical to its future development. For RLP as the lead organisation, this includes its own philosophical and practical approach to the future professional development of its musicians and staff, and the professional culture of the organisation as a whole. Within the context of music education policy in the UK, In Harmony Sistema England has differentiated itself so far by setting out to impact upon the child, the family and the community, with a genuine philosophy of equality and equitability. Discussions revealed a desire for pedagogical research that compares In Harmony Liverpool with other ensemble forms and examples of group activity, with suggestions including other international models such as Brazil's AfroReggae project. This is especially pertinent when considering the social impact of In Harmony Liverpool, and issues on the scalability of different musical forms, including the infrastructure in place and access to repertoire. Emerging research suggestions and recommendations emulated those made during previous research workshops, including a need for ethnographic, comparative approaches that help to distinguish what is 'uniquely Sistema' about In Harmony Liverpool's educational methods, philosophy and impact. When combined it is hoped that the three themes described to this point can create a richer understanding of the holistic cultural value of In Harmony Liverpool via such dedicated research programmes.

A final conference was held on 17th July 2013 - The Orchestra, the Community and Cultural Value - where emerging ideas were shared and debated with an extended audience. We were delighted to be joined by eminent cultural economist Professor David Throsby for this event, along with leading Sistema and cultural value experts from the UK and USA. Network activities provided a platform for gauging the validity of and interest in the research opportunities presented, revealing considerable potential for a fascinating, longitudinal programme of research that considers the true, nuanced, causal impact and cultural value of In Harmony Liverpool as the programme progresses
Exploitation Route From 2016, I am second supervisor on a doctoral study comparing the value of international El Sistema-inspired programmes (fully-funded by studentship awarded by Liverpool John Moores University). Questions of cultural value raised and recommendations made by the In Harmony Liverpool Research Network will be incorporated into the study.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education