IF YOU were to devise a scheme to build community cohesion, and
tackle social exclusion and crime, the teaching of classical music
might not be the first idea you came up with.
But the Revd Jan Gould, Vicar of the inner-city parish of Ely,
in west Cardiff, knew from personal experience what music can do -
it was playing the violin that got her through her own teenage
battles with anorexia and alcohol.
And so, building on the work of the El Sistema musical education
programme in Venezuela for disadvantaged children, she set up
Making Music Changing Lives, to work across both Ely and the
neighbouring parish of Caerau.
She has the backing of teachers, clergy - including the
Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan - and, perhaps more
significantly, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD),
and the Welsh National Opera (WNO).
After just three years, teachers are already seeing a
significant change in the behaviour and efforts of pupils involved
with the scheme.
Mrs Gould had no doubt that classical music could make a
difference. "The aim of our project is to give children who
wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity, through lack of finance,
the chance to learn a classical instrument, and for music to become
a part of their lives," she says.
"But, beyond that, there are also bigger aims with the project -
to create more community cohesion within our parish. It's a very
socially deprived area of Cardiff, with a lot of the usual problems
that go with poverty-related living. Hopefully, as these children
grow, they won't turn to crime when they get to their teens,
because they will have another interest."
THE project began with a series of "Feel-good Friday" concerts,
to expose children to classical music. Students from the RWCMD
gave a series of interactive concerts that featured a mixture of
light classical pieces, from composers such as Mozart, with scores
from Disney films, and other music with which the children would be
"They see that this music, which they love, is actually played
on classical instruments, and they are learning that, when playing
a classical instrument, you can play fun stuff as well."
The concerts ran for a year, and then the children were asked if
they would like to have a go themselves. Then, a summer school,
teaching children violin and cello, was held. "At the end of that
week, we did a concert for all the children to play in, even if
they were playing only open strings on the violin without a bow,"
she says. "It sounds horrendous, if you've been doing it for only a
week - but we got a really good jazz pianist to improvise over the
top of what they were plucking.
"They got to perform at a concert in the church. About 100
people came, and they were amazed that their children could do this
after just a week."
In subsequent years, the project added woodwind, and then brass
sections; and now an inter-generational community choir has also
been added to the project's ensemble.
The project's link with the RWCMD happened early on, and they
were keen to help, because of the undoubted success of El
"El Sistema started with 12 children, 30 years ago; now, they've
got half a million. When they began the programme, there was one
professional orchestra in Venezuela, with mainly European players;
they have now got more than 40 professional orchestras of
home-grown players. And, in 30 years, Venezuela has been
transformed from a nation of slums to a nation of culture.
"Nothing but music could have done that. And, about three years
ago, there was a young guy from Venezuela who got a job with the
Berlin Philharmonic - arguably the best orchestra in the world. He
was their youngest-ever player, at 17. When he was 11, he was on
the streets of Venezuela, hooked on heroin. Music turned his life
around. And if it can do that in Venezuela, why can it not do it
MRS GOULD already knew about the transforming power of music.
Earlier this year, she gave an emotional speech to the Governing
Body of the Church in Wales, in which she spoke about how her world
was turned upside down when her parents divorced in her teens.
"Mum remarried what turned out to be a very violent man," she
told the assembly. "Domestic violence became the norm in our house,
with no escape from it. Out of all the chaos of our life at home, I
became anorexic; I turned to heavy drink; and, when I was 16, my
stepfather kicked me out for good."
She describes this period in her life as "a difficult few
years", but says, "along with my faith, it was my music that helped
me to survive."
"Music gave me a means to process my feelings about what was
happening in the home," she says. "It allowed me to work through
those feelings, and express them in a way that was creative. A lot
of these children in Ely come from very dysfunctional homes - much
more dysfunctional than the home I grew up in - and they need to
find ways to let off steam about that, to express it and to be able
to channel those feelings in a positive way."
AT A school where Mrs Gould was a governor, a ten-year-old boy,
whose parents were drug addicts, was on the point of permanent
exclusion. He had already been excluded three times. "When you do
that with a ten-year-old, you know that, by 13 or 14, they're going
to be in a young-offender institute," Mrs Gould says; so she
suggested that they give him cello lessons instead.
They introduced the boy to a "practice pal" - a mentor from the
RWCMD who would visit him in school once a week to support him. "To
start with, he was bit bolshie, like he was with all his teachers,"
Mrs Gould says; "but, after a few weeks, he started getting on with
him, and, after a while, he asked the practice pal: 'What do you do
in college all day?' He said: 'I play my cello.'"
The practice pal explained that, eventually, he wanted to get a
job in an orchestra. The boy was shocked that someone could be paid
to play music, and asked: "Do you think I could ever do that?" His
practice pal replied: "You can do anything, if you put your mind to
"Instantly, his behaviour transformed in school," Mrs Gould
says, "and, two years later, he went to a high school. He would go
only on condition that he would have a cello teacher.
"That's one life. Music gave him somewhere to channel all of
what he was struggling with. It gave him role models, something to
aim for, something to aspire to, and a belief that he could do it,
instead of being constantly told that he was useless, and a
She is firm in her belief that "music is a language that anybody
can speak.Whether or not you can read or write, you can understand
And she is quick to point out a correlation between the
breakdown in community cohesion across South Wales, with the fall
in the number of community music outlets.
"ONE of the things I learned, moving to Wales, is that people
have music in their genes here," she says. "There's no doubt about
that. They just instinctively have music in the fibre of their
"All the South Wales valleys, when the pits were open, had
colliery bands, they had male-voice choirs. They had music at the
heart of their communities. Since the pits closed, most of that has
gone. There was all the camaraderie down in the pits, as well as
the whole shared life, but music was such an integral part of those
Students from the RWCMD volunteer their time as teachers, and
can use their teaching experience in Ely as part of the skills
required for their music degree.
"Students come to music college with this great idea that
they're going to be a performer when they leave," she says. "The
reality is, that most musicians have to teach to earn a living. And
they have really discovered a love for teaching while they have
been with us, because they've realised that it is not just about
teaching somebody a technique. It's about working with a whole
person, and transforming a whole person. They have seen the
response that they get from these children, and they absolutely
In addition to the RWCMD, the success of the project has
attracted the interest of the WNO, and the Opera's head of outreach
has just joined the project's board. "The other week we took 25
children, and their parents, to the opera."
She admits to having been apprehensive: "How are the kids going
to respond to opera? It's one thing playing Mozart." She needn't
have worried: "They were on the edge of their seats. They loved it.
It was Così Fan Tutte, which is a comic opera anyway, and it was
done in a very modern way.
"In February, they are doing Madame Butterfly, and some of the
cast are coming to do workshops with the children. We're going to
write some of the better-known songs in a very simple form, so that
the orchestra can learn them. And then we are going to take them to
Mrs Gould's vision for the children on her inner-city estate
knows no limits. "They've got a youth opera at WNO, and who knows
whether we might feed some of our children into that," she
El Sistema Scotland has been launched by the former Bishop of
Edinburgh, the Rt Revd Richard Holloway, with funding from the
devolved Scottish Parliament. Julian Lloyd Webber has established
the project In Harmony in London and Liverpool; and there is a
similar scheme in Norwich.
The trustees of Making Music Changing Lives are continuing to
expand the project in several ways. These include: reducing the age
of the children they work with; establishing music-based mothers-
and-toddlers groups; and expanding to other areas in Wales. They
are already in discussions with a group in Caernarfon about an
Mrs Gould does not see the music project as a distraction from
her parish ministry, insisting that it is an integral part of her
ministry. "This is mission in a different language. It's not
preaching the gospel to them, in one sense, but, for me, living the
gospel is about transforming lives. That, ultimately, is what Jesus
came to do.
"And, by transforming these lives - by enabling these people,
these children, to become all that they can be - I believe we are
living the gospel."