Working in harmony

In the current challenging climate for the arts, international law firm Pinsent Masons has announced a second year of support for Opera North’s award-winning music education programme In Harmony Opera North.

While recognising the individual and social benefits of the programme on the lives of over 1,800 pupils in Leeds, Pinsent Masons was also impressed by how quickly and effectively Opera North responded to the challenges of lockdown. By broadening the assets available, the team ensured that all the children were able to continue accessing high quality music education while schools remained closed. Online materials were distributed weekly, including videos of rhythm games and songs with accompanying art activities for the younger children, and explorations of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and works by the African-American composer Florence Price for older pupils.

Jacqui Cameron, Opera North Education Director, said: “What lockdown showed was how crucial the arts were in maintaining young people’s wellbeing. Thanks to the generosity of Pinsent Masons and others, we were able to ensure that our In Harmony programme carried on being delivered into pupils’ homes the whole time, keeping them engaged and inspired by music, as well as encouraging them to respond creatively to the situation.”

With schools now open, In Harmony Opera North has moved back into the classroom. Working in smaller groups to fit in with government guidelines, the team has resumed its work teaching each child how to play an orchestral instrument. While singing restrictions remain in place, digital choral content has also been developed for use in the classroom and at home.  Participating primary schools include Windmill Primary School in Belle Isle, where the project launched in 2013, Low Road Primary School in Hunslet, New Bewerley Community Primary School in Beeston and Richmond Hill Academy in Cross Green.

In addition, after school sessions have been adapted for secondary school pupils at The Ruth Gorse Academy. Due to the popularity of In Harmony among the pupils, live instrumental sessions mixed with supporting digital material are being delivered safely in order for the children to receive the best possible learning experience each week. The team also continues to deliver sessions at The Stephen Longfellow Academy which works with students who are struggling to maintain a full-time place in mainstream education.

Jacqui Timmins, Pinsent Masons Head of Office in Leeds, commented: “Now more than ever we are delighted to be inspiring young lives with our support of the In Harmony project with Opera North.

“We were hugely impressed with the way Opera North adapted at such speed to continue the project despite restrictions, and with relatively little disruption to the programme. It is vital that these students continue to have some sense of normality in their school lives through the ongoing pandemic, In Harmony provides this. We have been able to see first-hand the positive impact In Harmony has on students and the community through regular updates and some short performances.”

“In Harmony Opera North defines our identity and ethos, and enriches the social, moral, spiritual and cultural aspects of our curriculum in a way that no other project can match. Long may it continue to change lives for the better.”

Embedding music in schools in this way has been shown to enrich the lives of both pupils and staff, as well as those of the wider community, raising aspirations and self-confidence as well as aiding the development of creative problem-solving and communication skills. An impressive uplift in attainment and behaviour has been seen at every participating school, including a marked improvement in the pupils’ SATs results.

Andy Gamble, Executive Headteacher at Low Road & Windmill Music Federation, said: “The In Harmony programme continues to be an essential ingredient in ensuring the future success of our pupils. We were particularly impressed to see how rapidly the team moved the learning online following the outbreak of COVID-19 so that all our pupils were given the opportunity to continue their musical development from their homes. In the current climate, it is hugely reassuring to know that this flexibility exists.