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Evaluation and impact measurement with City of London Sinfonia

Zak Hulstrom, Development Manager at City of London Sinfonia, reflects on working with Sound Connections as evaluator and critical friend.

“We have been working alongside Sound Connections on two different projects involving young people in educational settings; the school at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital, and primary schools in Harrow as part of our Key Stage 1 programme.

The first project involves young people (ages 8-18) at the schools in the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital as part of a three-year residency supported by Youth Music. Young people come to Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital from all over the UK to receive treatment for mental health illnesses. Their stay at the hospital can last from three weeks to three months (sometimes longer). Living with a mental illness can make social interaction with others challenging and being away from friends and family can also make it hard to adjust to a new environment.

We aren’t experts in mental health. We believe in the way unique way that music has the ability to transform people’s lives, especially for those who take an active role participating in it. Sound Connections is helping us develop ways to measure these positive changes at Bethlem and Maudsley, but it isn’t a straightforward measurement because ‘positive changes’ can mean different things to different people. However, the single common denominator shared among all the cases where music has transformed someone’s life, is when a young person engages in the music.

What does ‘engagement’ look like?

  • During the first workshop, a student sits in the far corner of the room, within earshot of the workshop and chooses not to participate. In the second workshop, she holds a maraca. In the third workshop she writes the lyrics to a song which her classmates were struggling to compose words for, and in the final workshop they sang the song together.
  • A student creates a melody on an instrument that is echoed by a CLS player. They enter a musical conversation which is turned into a piece accompanied by other members of the group.
  • A student who rarely responds to her environment does not join in the group music-making in any of the workshops, except for the final one, when she interacts with a piece of technology the group was using to create music.

The second project involves first steps into music education for Key Stage 1 children (ages 5-7 years) in Harrow. Through group singing and song writing they learn and apply basic musical concepts while also being introduced to classical instruments and repertoire. After a series of creative workshops, the children attend an interactive CLS concert performed in their local community. An average of 360 young people have taken part in the project every year since 2012. Our primary goal is to inspire and expose young people to classical music and create a pathway into music learning.

We can see the benefits of music learning in this project, but we have never had an external evaluator help us articulate exactly what the benefits are. Sound Connections helped us develop a framework to understand: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Who are we doing it for?

We know that ‘what’ we are doing is making music exciting for hundreds of kids every year, which we do through three weekly workshops and a culminating concert involving an animateur and classes of up to 30 young people.

The ‘why’ comes from each borough’s music hub, who tell us which schools would benefit the most, usually based on a lack of music provision. Creating a stronger link to music by introducing them to and performing alongside professional players increases the likelihood that young people will want to explore music further, take up an instrument, or just find music to be a useful form of self-expression.

The people who benefit the most are not just the young people, but also their teachers. The project is preceded by CPD for teachers at the school, which serves two purposes: to increase their confidence to participate in the young people’s music workshops, and to embed musical learning in the school for the longer term. Giving teachers skills to make music an integral part of their curriculum is our way of helping the school sustain their own music learning, even when we’re not there.

In July we will be finishing the first year of this project, and Sound Connections will be our critical friends in showing us, through empirical data and data analysis, if we’re on the right track. We’ll ask them: to what degree are we achieving what we say we do, and how it could be improved? Are we bringing added benefit in ways we couldn’t predict?

Sound Connections have been crucial to the success of our projects in Harrow and Bethlem & Maudsley Hospital School, and primary schools in Harrow, in the following ways:

  1. Focused our thinking around what we are hoping to achieve
  2. A critical friend who can tell us what is and is not possible to measure
  3. Gathered honest feedback from our partners to encourage transparency without putting our relationships at risk
  4. Provided a fulsome report
    1. Research that puts our project in context with other organisations
    2. Fed into their own research on youth voice
    3. Tells our story in simple, straightforward language
    4. Statistics are thorough and analysis is helpful, giving us room to make our own analysis of how we may consider the next phase of projects and improve them
  5. A committed partner, joining us at our other events and demonstrating an interest in our organisation as a whole, not just the project.”

Sound Connections established its consultancy service in 2012 to provide specialist services to organisations across the UK, drawing upon many years of music education delivery, strategy and research. We support organisations through youth voice and governance; evaluation and strategic support; mapping and needs analysis; continuing professional development and communications. Previous clients include Arts Council England, Music Education Hubs, Barbican Centre, Wigmore Hall and English Heritage.

For more information about how Sound Connections could support your organisation, please contact Philip on



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