07 August 2020

No Silencing This Big Noise

Big Noise musician

Big Noise is an intensive, immersive model of music education which delivers benefits far beyond instrumental skills. Inspired by El Sistema, set up in Venezuela in 1975, increased confidence, greater resilience, improved focus and discipline are just a small number of the benefits associated with participation in Big Noise, as identified over several years of independent evaluation by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH).

In their 2019 report, People change lives: consolidating five years of evaluation learning from Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise centres in Stirling, Glasgow and Aberdeen, GCPH concluded that the benefits of the programme were underpinned by the strong relationships – based on trust, understanding and mutual respect – established between Big Noise musicians and participants. Not just educators, our musicians are also seen as mentors and role models, particularly as participants enter their teens and approach adulthood.

So, when Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise centres were forced to pause their traditional form of delivery due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they quickly decided that their first priority was maintaining those relationships so that they could continue to support the wellbeing of the children and young people.

In order to be able to continue to support their communities, they established the Big Noise Virtual After-School Club; a digital version of the after-school programme that the Big Noise centres deliver to children from ages 6 to 18. They contacted families in the four communities to find out what IT equipment they were able to access (and share with their children), whether they had Wi-Fi, and if they would consent to their children receiving online lessons from Big Noise (via video conferencing) during the lockdown. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Sistema Scotland also provided IT equipment and support directly to a small number of families, who would otherwise have been unable to participate in online lessons. The first Big Noise lessons via video call started in the second week of April 2020.

Adapting the Big Noise programme to a digital form of delivery was not straightforward and the process of doing so highlighted the challenges faced by so many families in their communities linked to the long-term social, economic and health inequalities which pre-date Covid-19 and have been exacerbated by it. Also critical to this shift was identifying, understanding and addressing the safeguarding issues that arise when you create a direct digital link into a child’s personal space. Big Noise built on its own experience of over 12 years of teaching children and young people, but and also sought advice and expertise on the areas that were new – particularly the use of video conferencing for teaching.

Big Noise group of participants

By late June 2020, Big Noise had delivered more than 3,000 online Big Noise lessons.

The feedback through the parent and families was hugely encouraging:

  • “…say thanks to the whole team on our behalf. [My son] just finished his lesson. He is so happy”
  • “[My daughter] loved her lesson. Thank you x”
  • “First lesson done with Nicola and [my son] is so excited, he wanted to show me what he learned today. Thank you, this has lifted all our moods.”
  • “[my daughter] is really enjoying it and it’s picked up her mood… thanks for making the online lessons happen”.
  • “A huge thank you to you guys who are keeping children happy in this extreme situation.”

The live online lessons expanded to include group lessons and a selection of more social activities, which have helped the children and young people of Big Noise to stay in touch with each other.

In addition, the live lessons have been supported by the creation of over 500 pre-recorded teaching videos by the Big Noise musicians, as well as some fun musical videos on our Facebook pages.

Big Noise musician has online lesson

To prepare a performance for the Summit’s Special Edition, the young musicians from Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise rekindled their partnership with the young musicians of the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, begun at the Edinburgh International Festival last year. Spanning an ocean during lockdown they have rehearsed together in a very special collaboration to bring Summit audiences their performance of Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, from The Planets.


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