A Symphony for Life


Written by: Christopher Nicholls

A small group of people is building in Australia an inspiring and ambitious music program, influenced by the “El Sistema” model – the Venezuelan phenomenon that has spread around the world. Children attend after school workshops for two or three hours three times a week. They learn orchestral instruments and very soon form an orchestra and a choir of about 60 musicians. They are well taught by skilled teaching artists and soon reap the personal and academic benefits of music education as revealed by the research.

But the program has objectives that go beyond the musical. It is intended to build community and social cohesion and lead to wider life and career success for the participants. By preference, it will be offered in disadvantaged communities many of which, in Australia are often very diverse culturally. The Symphony for Life Foundation will begin by building a program in Western Sydney, but its intention is to support communities across Australia to set up programs so that there is national impact.

Loudmouth in each issue will publish a Symphony for Life Diary, reporting on the objectives pursued, obstacles faced, feats accomplished. It will be written by Christopher Nicholls, the founder and CEO of the program.

Symphony For Life diary: Entry #11

Slowly does it…

The comedian actor Eddie Cantor once famously said…

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

So we learn that lesson in Symphony For Life Foundation as we gear up for the two initial programs in Western Sydney. Being our initial programs means that we need to ‘invent’ everything as we go – not that that is a problem it’s just that it needs to be done!

Sometimes it feels like it’s two steps forward and one back, but actually, all steps are forward – it’s just that they are steps not races!

I thought that it might be interesting to share the process so that you can see how thorough it actually is, and what we are actually building in Western Sydney.

The Music

The orchestra is the key ensemble for Symphony For Life programs, and is a metaphor for community. Our programs will also include or offer an orchestral/y derived or associated program such as choir or an ensemble such as strings, winds or percussion – dependent on funding too.

One of the principle values imparted by the use of an orchestra, is that it teaches and inspires its musicians high levels of commitment, persistence and executive function. We will use music purposefully specifically to impart those skills and traits in our young musicians – fulfilling an aspect of the promise of transformation and positive change.

The Learning Experiences

The learning experiences are developmental and sequential with the aim being to teach the whole child through music. Symphony For Life Foundation programs are music-based and wonderfully, also address Australian Curriculum priorities such as Student Diversity, General Capabilities and Cross-Curriculum Priorities. Thus, we remain in-synch with the wider sphere of education processes and standards in Australia.

Communication, collaboration and creativity are intended to be key aspects of Symphony For Life programs. We all know that children learn through speech, play, movement, song and performance; music and communications technologies are key enhancements to our planned delivery by highly qualified and prepared teaching artists.

Learning experiences will be planned, delivered and acquitted from scope and sequence documentation; Symphony For Life Foundation programs acknowledge, complement and enhance any programs already in place from partner and associated organisations such as schools, NGOs and government agencies. This is a large part of our commitment to collaboration in Symphony For Life.

Program Planning and Delivery – The Program Hub

Unlike many ‘similar’ music programs, Symphony For Life Foundation programs are designed to be community partnerships that develop and manage a what we call a “Program Hub” – not unlike the El Sistema “Nucleo” or nucleus – a community music performance and education centre housing and supporting these programs, where each partnership will reflect the needs and resources of the particular community or communities served by a Program Hub.

The Program Hub partnership is reflected through the establishment of a “community partnership committee” formed to plan and manage their program. It’s an essential component of the community engagement and assigns an important, inclusive role for the community itself – the intention is to empower the community to contribute and develop its own management process, which may include local fundraising, volunteer support, food provision and preparation (for the children) and even local bussing for the children enrolled.

Our Teaching Artists

Instruction will be delivered by Foundation staff and volunteers, with the title “Teaching Artist” meaning highly skilled and experienced professional musicians, as well as being excellent teachers of children and young people.

All will have mandatory WWCC and anaphylaxis training – not unlike the classroom teachers In our schools. Teaching artists’ credentials and resumes will be freely available to the community. We take the safety and wellbeing of the children and the staff very seriously.

Director of Programs

Our Director of Programs, John Hibbard, has advanced standing as a music educator nationally, with nearly 40 years’ experience in teaching diverse children from Years 2 to 12 in a wide variety of contexts, including the classroom and in instrumental music programs.

He also has extensive experience and success as a music education leader in NSW schools and highly developed leadership and community engagement experience to match both his classroom and his extracurricular skill sets.

Also a talented musician in his own right, John appreciates the process involved not only in music teaching but also being an orchestral musician and all that entails!

What Symphony For Life Foundation Will Provide

The Foundation programs are to be funded and facilitated through partnerships, grants, foundations and individual philanthropy. As a result, all children will receive free, quality assured tuition and loan of an instrument free of charge, regardless of their personal circumstances. The Foundation will also provide all teaching and learning materials for each Program Hub.


Instruments may come from a variety of sources, including the Foundation, according to the circumstances of each community Program Hub. Sourcing of instruments notwithstanding, the Foundation will ensure that each child has an instrument of the most suitable quality for their music learning experiences, free of charge.

What the Community Will Provide

The community will typically provide, teaching and learning spaces, rehearsal space, volunteer support at venues, fundraising for busing and any discretionary items such as T-shirts, through the Program Hub partnerships and management group.

In conclusion…

These are not simple music programs – they are large scale and powerful, and capable of not only producing fine musical children but also transforming them in the process – which of course is the real point of the program and the Foundation itself.

Well that’s where it’s all up to with Symphony For Life Foundation…

Onward and upwards!


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