Confessions of a Director of Music - Francis Cummings reflects on his role at Sistema Scotland and wishes his successor every success in the role!
I joined Sistema Scotland in November 2011. Back then, we had one centre, Raploch, and a teaching/music staff of about seventeen. Although the initial inspiration for Sistema Scotland had come from El Sistema in Venezuela, there was no real template for what lay ahead and as I was now part of the leadership of what was essentially, a pioneering organisation, it soon became clear to me that a large part of my role was going to be designing templates for delivery, writing and designing curriculum as well as, with my other colleagues in leadership, shaping the culture of this embryonic and emerging organisation – an exciting and daunting challenge!
Over the ensuing years, the organisation has grown and expanded significantly. We are now operating in four cities across Scotland, employing over 100 staff. We are working with nearly 2,500 children weekly through our after-school and in-school programmes and our programmes have developed considerably in diversity and complexity as well as the breadth of opportunities they offer our children and young people.
There is no doubt that the role of Director of Music in Sistema Scotland is both challenging and demanding, however, as I reflect on my journey over the last seven years, I consider that I have been very fortunate in the rich diversity that my job has afforded me; a stimulating tapestry of leadership and management as well as creative artistic and educational oversight. I have had the privilege of artistically overseeing and shaping a number of very exciting projects over the years; the visit of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra to Scotland in 2012, the Commonwealth Games collaboration in 2014 and the Big Trip to Venezuela to name a few. I have also thoroughly enjoyed representing Sistema Scotland on the international stage at concerts, conferences and seminars in USA, Venezuela, France, Italy, Sweden, Finland and South Korea.
I think however that the most rewarding part of my role is the people, adults and children that I encounter across the whole organisation on a weekly basis.
I am constantly amazed at the skill, commitment, flexibility and passion of my close colleagues in the Sistema Leadership Team. They are supportive, enabling, good humoured and passionate about our shared vision and values. The team leaders I manage are a group of highly skilled, multi–talented, committed and very hard-working people who constantly work above and beyond to deliver the very best for the children, young people and communities that they serve.
The Big-Noise musicians are the most unique group of people I know. A truly multi- national group, they represent an astonishingly vibrant diversity of talent, skill, ability and experience. They are creative, reflective, supportive as well as great fun. I am regularly moved as I watch them work, at times in very challenging circumstances, with great perseverance, patience and skill. This commitment to children and enthusiasm for the work is replicated with the support the musicians receive to do their work, from our volunteers and support staff. At the end of one of our recent Birthday concerts, a VIP guest, reflecting on what he had just seen and heard, said to me, ‘congratulations, you have recruited very well’. I’m not sure I can claim credit for all our recruitment but I am very proud to be at the helm of an organisation which is home to such a breadth of talent skill and experience.
Last, but by no means least, our Big Noise children and young people. As my role has grown and developed, I have limited contact with children but when I do work with them or observe other colleagues working with them, I always come away energised and inspired. They move me by their achievements, humble me by their resilience and always amaze me with the courage and determination they display, often in the face of very complex challenges. I wish my successor every success in the role and can promise him or her that there will never be a dull moment!
Francis Cummings, June: 2018
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