20 years of SoundStorm

This year, SoundStorm celebrates 20 years of music education and enrichment across Bournemouth, Poole and more recently Christchurch. Founded in 2002 by Dan Somogyi and the late Steve Harris, we chatted with Dan to get his reflections on the journey as we prepare for the seismic 20th celebratory event, Around the World in 8 days, at the BIC on July 12th.

Tell us how SoundStorm was formed back in 2002 Dan?

SoundStorm came out of an initiative from Bournemouth and Poole Councils’ Arts and Education teams to diversify and modernise the music education offer in the 2 towns. Before SoundStorm was set up, the offer from the local music service and in many schools consisted primarily of Western Classical music, carols at Christmas and some occasional sprinklings of jazz, rock and pop. The tuition offer in place was generally good and there was some excellent classroom teaching happening in schools. But it was largely confined to these genres. We obviously didn’t want to disrupt the great stuff that was happening. What we did want, though, was to shake things up a bit, broaden and enrich what was already on offer, promote new ideas, bring in some new ways of working, and include many more underrepresented groups of young people through exciting, contemporary genres that would engage them. We wanted to tackle the still all-too-common perception that other music genres that aren’t Western classical music were somehow inferior. Our aim was to reach many more of the 90% of young people not doing much music, and give them the opportunity to get involved. We were very lucky in that we were given a pretty blank slate, and a small budget. We were more or less told to develop something you think will work!

Steve and I were recruited – deliberately, I think – because we came from non-formal music backgrounds. I had been working for JazzEast in Cambridge and had played in various bands in the jazz and rock/ska/punk spheres; Steve, as well as being a highly renowned free jazz drummer, had been running community art projects in Nottinghamshire and then Poole. We immediately worked out we both wanted basically the same thing and soon came up with our basic vision and mission. We settled on the name SoundStorm after a long afternoon at the Haven Hotel in Poole, and went round as many schools and providers we could to get a feeling for what was happening. The initial 18 month pilot for the councils went so well that the contracts were extended and, ultimately, made permanent. And 20 years later, the rest is history. Lovely Steve sadly lost his battle with cancer in 2008 but if he were to come back today, I think he would be proud of what he helped start.

We’ve worked with over half a million children since then, many of whom wouldn’t have done a lot of music under the old system. There have been ups and downs, with funding always a slight worry, but we’ve always managed to come through. I’m very proud of how we’ve managed to include so many more young people in music making over the past 20 years than otherwise might have been the case. And we’ve undoubtedly greatly broadened what was on offer before. We are beginning to see alumni in music careers who were inspired by some of the things we did – as well as their music tutors and teachers at school – which is always great to see!

How has the role of SoundStorm evolved across the last two decades?

SoundStorm’s mission remains the same – to give as many young people as possible the opportunities to make music in a whole range of genres and settings. We still work very closely with all our local schools. But the organisation has obviously grown in its reach, role, and range of activities plus our number of staff members / delivery partners.

Up until 2011 we were largely a one or two man band; and our work remained primarily project-focussed, working with quite small budgets. The two biggest transitions came when we were asked by schools and the councils to become Bournemouth and Poole’s own music education service in 2011 (we’d previously been part of Dorset); and then when we successfully bid to lead the new Music Education Hub in the conurbation in 2012, which brought in significant, regular funding. So we were able to grow our reach and our role, we were obliged broaden our remit as part of the music hub. Our team has naturally expanded significantly to reflect this.

We still work regularly with nearly all the schools in the conurbation; and we have over 40 regular delivery partners. But instead of one or two projects happening at one time, we have multiple activities ongoing. We also find ourselves doing a lot more in the way of curriculum support than we originally intended – a result of the loss of music specialists in many of our schools. Plus many different genres. We generally enjoy excellent relations with all our partners.

SoundStorm continues to be both innovative and as inclusive as possible, key elements I’m delighted remain at the centre of our work. I think we punch above our weight for what is still a very small organisation. We also need to thank BCP Council, which continues to host and support us.

If you had to choose three highlights, what would they be?

This is a really hard question, there are so many. I suppose one would be my first ever large-scale SoundStorm project, back in 2002, a project working with Dorset based composer Karen Wimhurst, called Pipeworks, which premiered at the Bournemouth International Centre. It was a mad but brilliant, inclusive project, an original musical Karen had composed about plumbing but, more importantly, about water and the environment. Bournemouth schools had never really seen the like before! We were sponsored by B&Q, the DIY store, and ended up with a bath, lots of different bits of pipes and other plumbing accessories, which genius local musical instrument maker, Nick Crump, made into some amazing instruments, including a “bath harp”. Young people from the West Howe area of Bournemouth made up the band playing various bits of plumbing equipment ingeniously constructed into wind instruments and I remember the audience loved it. Its quirkiness somehow set a precedent for what followed.

Thinking back, a second highlight was developing the choir which performed in front of a raucous but enthusiastic crowd of 15000 on Bournemouth Beach in 2012 when the Olympic Torch came to town. We created an Olympic choir which comprised of a child from every school. Working with our partners at Bath Philharmonia and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the choir composed a brilliant piece of its own, called ‘Waves’, and then did a memorable version of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’, with the whole crowd singing along. It was one of those magical moments that get the hair standing up on the back of your neck. What’s more we were effectively the support act for Wretch32, which was also one of those amazing moments.

There are so many others to choose from that could count as the third. I think the amazing impact our projects can have on young people, often from challenging circumstances, can’t fail to inspire and bring joy. For example, we’ve done some brilliant projects with young carers which we know give them a huge boost. Small-scale projects in schools that can make a massive difference to young people who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to do music are also amazing. I remember feedback from one seven year old in Poole – ‘it was the best day of my life’ – which always sticks in the memory. The joys of early years music; those massive, flagship concerts at major venues, including at least three at the Royal Albert Hall; inspirational collaborations with famous musicians from many different cultures and countries – all are highlights!

From Classroom to Concert Hall

But I suppose the 3rd highlight I’d single out is the creative side of SoundStorm. We have always made this central to our work, and have developed, composed and commissioned new works, educational projects and a range of other resources throughout our journey, working with nationally renowned and emerging locally based composers and music leaders, such an important additional element to many educational projects. We’ve created mini operas; pop songs; major suites of Western classical music; jazz pieces; online instrumental learning courses; digital projects to assist teachers with composition in schools and much more. These have been premiered at major national venues, including the Royal Albert Hall and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. We have an ongoing collaboration, Far Flung Collective, with the University of the Highlands and Islands in the Outer Hebrides which has even led to 3 critically acclaimed folk music CDs being released. And this creativity continues, across all aspects of our work.

What’s happening to celebrate the 20th anniversary?

Lots! The flagship is our concert at the BIC on 12 July, premiering an amazing new orchestral commission by local composer and musician extraordinaire, Stefan Defilet, on the theme of Around the World in 8 Days. 300+ young and older musicians, plus a range of pro musicians from different musical cultures, will be taking part in our first major post-pandemic concert and the event has been at least 2 years in the making. I’m really looking forward to hearing how it all comes together. Tickets are still available!

But we have lots more across the year, including 20 small grants to schools wanting to put on their own concerts; they just need to apply via simple application form and the winning entries will be announced in September. We also have 6 live music tours going into schools over the year; digital world music commissions from musical partners from across the globe; a multi-arts outreach project in partnership with the Cultural Hub; and a further major composition project looking at the heritage of Poole High Street. Plus all our regular schools of focussed work. Loads in fact!

Any closing remarks, sage advice or dedications?

I’ve worked with literally hundreds of great colleagues, musicians and music leaders over the years, without whom SoundStorm would not be where it is today. There are so many I can’t list them all here – but a massive thankyou to everyone who has supported us, including all our school and early years partners, teachers, music leaders, cultural and musical organisations, funders and supporters, including Arts Council England, Youth Music, BCP Council and its predecessors. That said, particular shoutouts should go to my SoundStorm team colleagues past and present, including Steve Harris, Claire Tudge, Michael Armstrong, Rachel Sené, Sarah Derwish, Jo Farley, Claire Butler, Claire White, Caroline Rackham, Louisa Clark, Helen James and Jordi Robert.

I’d also thank the brilliant young people without whom we wouldn’t be here, and who make the work worthwhile and contribute so much. Hopefully we have managed to ignite in many an interest in music that will last a lifetime.

It’s been a challenging past 2 years, with the Covid19 pandemic impacting so many, but one thing that the pandemic did highlight to society was the power of music and the arts in enhancing and improving the lives of so many. We shouldn’t forget that. Music remains such an important part of people’s lives and it’s vital to keep giving young people the tools and resources to keep discovering it. That happens through organisations like SoundStorm

To get your tickets for Around The World in 8 Days, click here 


Phone + 01202 123012
Email + info@soundstorm-music.org.uk
c/o Absolute Music
3-5 Knighton Heath Estate
855 Ringwood Road
Bournemouth, Dorset
BH11 8NE


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