New El Sistema Orchestral Program Underway in Australia

Symphony For Life Foundation
Graham Strahle
| September 11, 2017

With principles founded on Venezuela’s famous El Sistema, Symphony For Life Foundation is a new organisation that is setting out to achieve social action through music. An after-school hour’s orchestral program that caters for young people aged 5 – 24 from disadvantaged backgrounds, it sets out to build values of musical excellence, teamwork and general community wellbeing.

There are many other music education programs around Australia aimed at helping disadvantaged children (several are listed here), but this new Foundation is purely orchestral in focus and is setting its sights at establishing El Sistema programs nationally. It will provide free lessons and free instruments to needy kids in an effort to enhance their creativity, academic outcomes, and sense of social connection.

An initiative of CEO, Christopher Nicholls, and Director of Programs, John Hibbard, Symphony For Life Foundation began establishing its first programs in Sydney’s western suburbs in October 2016. Nichols ran a forerunner pilot program ‘Crashendo!’ in 2011, which involved 30 primary school children in the Melbourne suburb of Laverton; this was under the banner of Sistema Australia, which he established in 2008. “Convinced of its potential and worth, he embarked on a process to create a better model, with a clear intent to make the program not only worthwhile, but sustainable,” the Foundation says in its website.

Meanwhile Hibbard, a Sydney-based music educator of long experience, has previously worked as Musica Viva’s National Manager of Teaching and Learning.

“Our programs are capacity-building, social cohesion programs that use the positive power of good instrumental music education, through the establishment of orchestra and choir-based music programs, to transform their lives and the communities in which they live,” says the Foundation.

Symphony For Life is setting its sights initially on forming an orchestra of 60-100 young people. It says no previous musical experience is necessary, and teaching will be run entirely in group classes as opposed to conventional individual lessons.

‘Learning by doing’ is how the Foundation characterises its teaching approach. “Everyone is enrolled in the orchestra as a musician from day one. All musicians are taught ‘on-the-job’ and as a group. This is a powerful way of teaching and a natural way of learning. It means that the children learn at the same general rate and time, and are taken through as a cohort – together – rather than individually.”

Symphony For Life Foundation is currently looking for teachers. If you are interested, see further details here.

A not dissimilar organisation is the Australian Children’s Music Foundation, which operates weekly music education classes to disadvantaged children and youth at risk. Founded in 2002 by Don Spencer, it runs programs in all states. We wrote about its National Songwriting Competition last year. The key difference with Symphony For Life Foundation is that it is follows the El Sistema vision of achieving social change through music.

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