In Harmony Liverpool AHRC Research Network (2012-13)

IH Liverpool logoThe In Harmony Liverpool Research Network has brought together an international community of interest to consider and debate the impact and value of the In Harmony Liverpool programme, led by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (RLP). Inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema initiative, In Harmony Liverpool uses the symphony orchestra as a means of engaging young children (aged 4 years upwards) in music education and performance, adopting the Sistema philosophy of working with children from the most deprived parts of the country. Launched in 2009 and now one of six programmes supported by the national charity In Harmony Sistema England, In Harmony Liverpool has become an embedded feature of cultural life in Liverpool’s West Everton community.

The network was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) August 2012 – July 2013, as part of the cross-council Connected Communities programme, and led by the ICC’s Kerry Wilson (Principal Investigator), in association with Professor Jude Robinson, University of Liverpool (Co-investigator) and project partners RLP and the Royal Northern College of Music. Its formation was prompted and inspired by the commissioned evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool (2009-12), which has consistently indicated a range of positive impacts upon participating children, their families and the West Everton community, and made a number of operational and strategic recommendations regarding the programme’s on-going effectiveness. The network was convened to begin to consider in more critical depth emerging ideas concerning the potential long-term social and economic value of In Harmony Liverpool, which have been organised using three distinct but inter-related research themes.

Between March and May 2013, the network participated in three research workshops (one per theme) to explore and debate both evaluation findings, and related interests within the context of existing interdisciplinary research. Workshop participants included academic colleagues from a range of disciplines, including centres for research on Socio-Cultural Change (University of Manchester); Applied Educational Research (University of Strathclyde); and Health Inequalities (University of Liverpool). Other participants have included Sistema experts from New England Conservatory, Boston, USA and In Harmony Sistema England programmes; local authority and health trusts; and key In Harmony Liverpool representatives including the RLP education team and the programme’s independent evaluators.

Workshop 1 – Cultural Capital in the Community (22 March 2013)

Our discussions on the research theme of Cultural Capital in the Community exposed some epistemological challenges – and therefore research opportunities – linked to the idea and practice of In Harmony Liverpool’s primary objective as a social project that uses a cultural intervention as a means rather than an end. This was problematic for some participants in raising questions on the significance of the cultural intervention if purely designed to fulfil social objectives, including would any other type of intervention requiring less unique professional commitment have the same impact? There are potentially risks involved and missed learning opportunities if not fully considering the cultural impact – particularly in terms of musical and artistic capacity – of a major strategic music education intervention. Other implications of In Harmony Liverpool as a social mission were discussed within the context of previous research on El Sistema, and on cultural capital from sociological and educational perspectives.  There is a fundamental question of community cohesion or fragmentation that should be considered in light of a long tradition of social ‘betterment’ amongst the working classes. Is the overarching ideology of In Harmony Liverpool, and El Sistema more broadly, to improve chances for individuals or to improve the ‘equality of condition’ in communities themselves? In this context, network discussions complement a growing appetite within the cultural policy research community to reframe this particular discourse beyond established, Bourdieauan paradigms of individual cultural capital and socio-economic status, and build a more pertinent understanding of collective, contemporary cultural capital and its relative value. This is driven by a succession of recent cultural policy initiatives in the UK specifically that were driven by an explicit notion of increased access, inclusion and engagement within the ‘legitimate’ arts, alongside a desire for a greater acknowledgement and understanding of existing and different forms of community cultural heritage, identities, production and practices.

Invited speakers for this session included Dr Andrew Miles, Reader in Sociology, ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), University of Manchester; Dr Geoff Baker, Research Associate, Faculty of Music, University of Oxford and Reader in Musicology and Ethnomusicology, Department of Music, Royal Holloway, University of London; and Alastair Wilson, Senior Research Fellow, Applied Educational Research Centre, University of Strathclyde.

Workshop 2 – Healthy Communities (18 April 2013)

The Healthy Communities research workshop was designed to begin to unpack some of the tentative health indicators emerging from the commissioned evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool, including an attitudinal shift within West Everton concerning parental responsibility and proactive engagement with health professionals at preventive stages, each pointing to longer-term implications for the collective heath, wellbeing and resilience of the community. Evaluation findings also suggest strong ‘motivational’ indicators such as improved confidence and self-esteem.  Workshop participants agreed that there remains an imperative to “move beyond symptom impact” in such studies, in order to fully understand the underlying causes of ‘symptoms’ such as low self-esteem, and truly consider the impact of cultural interventions on ‘root cause’ medical health as well as symptomatic wellbeing.  This requires participatory methodologies that reflect the inherent qualities of the community-based interventions being assessed, in order to accurately identify “directly attributable” consistent changes in health values and behaviours. In this respect, In Harmony Liverpool presents a fully immersive intervention, with a number of social and cultural contexts that could facilitate a hugely informative longitudinal study of health and wellbeing. A number of conditions and caveats were offered to ensure the validity and reliability of such research. A comparative framework, including baseline indicators, control groups and comparative case studies relating to other forms of intervention and cultural participation, was recommended.

Invited speakers for the second workshop included Justine Karpusheff, Mersey Care NHS Trust and the University of Manchester; Anne-Marie Martindale, Liverpool Health Inequalities Research Institute; and Polly Moseley, ESRC Arts Health and Wellbeing Research Network.

Workshop 3 – Music Education & Impact (14 May 2013)

During our third research workshop, the network began to consider some of the professional implications of In Harmony Liverpool and the Sistema movement in relation to music education policy and practice, professional musicianship, and the leadership role of iconic cultural institutions such as the RLP. Insightful, reflexive ideas on how emerging research questions can also shape the future development of RLP as a learning organisation were discussed. As the success of In Harmony Liverpool is based on relationships at several levels – between musicians on a day-to-day basis, and at a more strategic level between collaborating organisations – understanding the learning process is critical to its future development. For RLP as the lead organisation, this includes its own philosophical and practical approach to the future professional development of its musicians and staff, and the professional culture of the organisation as a whole. Within the context of music education policy in the UK, In Harmony Sistema England has differentiated itself so far by  setting out to impact upon the child, the family and the community, with a genuine philosophy of equality and equitability. Discussions revealed a desire for pedagogical research that compares In Harmony Liverpool with other ensemble forms and examples of group activity, with suggestions including other international models such as Brazil’s AfroReggae project. This is especially pertinent when considering the social impact of In Harmony Liverpool, and issues on the scalability of different musical forms, including the infrastructure in place and access to repertoire. Emerging research suggestions and recommendations emulated those made during previous research workshops, including a need for ethnographic, comparative approaches that help to distinguish what is ‘uniquely Sistema’ about In Harmony Liverpool’s educational methods, philosophy and impact. When combined it is hoped that the three themes described to this point can create a richer understanding of the holistic cultural value of In Harmony Liverpool via such dedicated research programmes.

Invited speakers for the third and final workshop included Jonathan Govias, Conductor and Sistema Consultant; Richard Hallam MBE, Music Education Consultant, In Harmony Sistema England; Professor George McKay, University of Salford.

A final conference was held on 17th July 2013 – The Orchestra, the Community and Cultural Value – where emerging ideas were shared and debated with an extended audience. We were delighted to be joined by eminent cultural economist Professor David Throsby for this event, along with leading Sistema and cultural value experts from the UK and USA. The network has revealed considerable potential for a fascinating, longitudinal programme of research that considers the true, nuanced, causal impact and cultural value of In Harmony Liverpool as the programme progresses. Having provided a platform for gauging the validity of and interest in the research opportunities presented, the ICC will now help to bring together collaborative research teams to take this important research forward. For more information, including detailed summaries of individual research workshops and presentations (where available), please see ‘downloads’ box at top right of page, or contact k.m.wilson@ljmu.ac.uk


The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more.  This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk.

← Back to Research
impact_logo livjmu_logo livuni_logo