Music is a relaxant and a treat – the right music can make you smile at the end of a tough week or even make you weep when you need to get it out. And, says classical solo cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, music is all it takes to drag society out of the grip of its vices – drugs, knife crime, gun crime, to name a few.
Julian is speaking to Muso’s Guide about the newest government-backed programme to help soothe societal ills. Called In Harmony, it is currently a Â£3 million experiment, but the professional musician and brother of Andrew Lloyd Webber is positively giddy about its possibilities.
“It’s a very exciting project as far as I’m concerned because it is not really a music education project, it’s a social project which is using music as a catalyst to bring about change in very poor communities.”
Julian insists that In Harmony is unique in this country, having been inspired by the successful El Sistema project in Venezuela. The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which exists thanks to that project, was phenomenally successful at Edinburgh Festival and the Proms, and Julian sees the installment of a similar project in the UK as a beacon of hope – and a harbinger of change.
“We have just over two years to prove and to show this, and that to me is the most important thing – that by April 2011, we can clearly demonstrate that communities have been helped hugely by this project. I want to see the project expanded and taken out into other places as well as being continued in the three areas where it started.”
The three areas are West Everton in Liverpool, Lambeth in London, and Norwich, and projects are well underway there, aiming to provide children with the tools to grow and learn, both socially and musically. Julian explains how the areas were chosen:“We interviewed eight submissions out of 100. They were very detailed submissions and all eight were excellent, but these three had something a little bit special. I’ve seen first hand the Lambeth one – I’ll be seeing the Liverpool and Norwich ones very soon – and it’s very impressive and very exciting, and just wonderful to see the children so involved and so happy playing.”
In 2003, Julian became involved in the Music In Education Consortium, and has since then been noted for his efforts to widen music education in the UK.
“It did start with myself, Evelyn Glennie [percussionist], Jimmy Galway [flautist] and Michael Kamen [composer], who unfortunately is no longer with us, going in to see Charles Clark and David Miliband at the time.”
Thanks to their efforts, the government injected Â£332 million of funding into an ailing UK music education, which is where the Â£3 million for In Harmony has been sourced.
“The government asked me to do In Harmony because I was particularly passionate about it and after the Venezualan orchestra came over. They asked me if I would lead it.”
Make no mistake, in spite of his busy schedule as a solo ‘cellist, Julian is hands-on with the In Harmony project. “Having chosen the projects, I could have taken more of a backseat than I do, because I’m very passionate about this project, and I want to make sure that it goes on. I want to give it every possibility that I can.”
The kids who In Harmony aims to help are from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, aged between four and nine years old. Julian says that the best bit for him has been watching the children at work.
“It’s wonderful to see their enthusiasm and excitement when they’re given an instrument. It’s quite possible they’ve never been given something in their lives, and suddenly they’re given something that’s theirs and they’re given free tuition and it really makes a difference in their whole way of thinking.”
As a man who has made his living in classical music, Julian is irritated by the impression that children can get about it from the media.
“What’s so great about getting these children so young is that they haven’t yet been told by adults that classical music isn’t ‘cool’, and they come to it with no preconceptions, and they really enjoy it. Where this ‘uncool’ business comes I don’t really know. It certainly doesn’t come from the music itself.”
The expansion of their chosen art form into more populist circles is one interest that the Lloyd Webber brothers share, with Julian’s older sibling Andrew making his mark on varied reality talent shows such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do on BBC1. What does Julian make of the criticism that has been levelled at Andrew for these manoeuveres?
“When Andrew started doing the first one, …Maria, he got quite a lot of criticism from people saying “This isn’t the way to cast a West End show”. On the other hand, look what it’s done for the West End! And Connie Fisher who won it, is brilliant, so it actually helped somebody launch a career and filled the theatre as a result. The winners of these programmes have been really talented, and it would be lovely to be able to do the same with classical music.”
For Julian Lloyd Webber, music is more than a mere entertainment – it signifies the possibility and promise which lies open to everyone. All you have to do is pick up an instrument and start playing.