Category Archives: Sistema Scotland

Taking the plunge…

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that for a long time now I have had a project in the back of my mind: a social project connected with the power of the arts to transform lives for the better. Having spent time in a hospital recently, a lot of things have become clearer to me: the power of human kindness, patience, compassion and above all, a little space to live your own life in.

I have been wondering, waiting and worrying, as I am wont to do, about the timing of such a project, the feasibility issues, the cost, the practical logistics, when I thought: ‘it might be now, or never’. So I took a chance, A risk, some might say. I took the plunge. I’m still not sure that it was the “right” thing to do, but perhaps I never will be, and anyway, I’m not sure that that is the important thing here.

The important thing is:

I did something. Not Nothing. And that means something.

I did it. Here goes. I said it.

 St Andrews Smiles Better Facebook Page – An experiment in positive thinking

“Don’t Ration Compassion” (a monk at Samye Ling Monastery, fieldwork, 2009)

This project is extremely close to my heart. So many people have touched my life in different ways, that I find it very hard not to say Thanks every time someone does something nice for me. So I want to pass it on. Play it forward. Form my own “Karma Army” like Danny Wallace. Help local businesses succeed and create employment opportunities. Play music to people to cheer them up. Do random acts of kindness and smile at people I don’t know. 


Thank you all for reading.



Jess xxxxxxxxxxx


With a little help from my friends… An open invitation!

An Open Invitation: ‘With a little help from my friends’





P1100298Dalai Lama

Thursday 29th August

St Andrews Church, Queen’s Terrace, St Andrews



Cello suites/Scottish Music/Surprise!!

Who, me?

Who, me?

You will need:



Your ears!

The plan:


The charities:

Heisenberg (Jill Craig)


Families First (St Andrews)

Sistema Scotland/In Harmony

Arts in Fife/Dundee

Drake Music Scotland

Music in Hospitals

Military Wives Choir (Gareth Malone)

Scottish Ensemble {insert group here}

Rokpa/Tibetan Children’s Villages/ICT

tibet screensaver

Brooklands College

Signpost International (Dundee)

Just Made/Gillian Gamble



Pragya (India)

RSPCA/RSPB/Big cat rescue

SUGGESTIONS WELCOME!! Answers on a post card to: Jess Long!

June happenings

Sorry, this blog seems to have been neglected over the past month or so, partly because events at the academy have been taking over my life a little! I’ll try and summarise what has been going on though, in case you’re interested…

On May 29th, I went to Stirling’s Albert Halls to help backstage with Sistema Scotland’s Third Birthday Concert. The 350 children who participate in the Big Noise project are all from Raploch, and receive a programme of free instrumental tuition, mentoring, musicianship and ensemble sessions from a team of musicians, some of whom are members of the BBCSSO. The system is based on the Venezuelan project El Sistema, which was set up by  pioneering musician and social innovator Jose Abreu to help children from the slums improve their lives and give them skills they could use to find jobs.


Most of the day was spent setting and resetting the stage with hundreds of tiny instruments (the mini cellos and basses were particularly cute), watching the children rehearse, and riding buses with audience members to the Halls for the afternoon concert. The performance was a resounding success (literally!), with members of the BBCSSO providing extra help and enhancing the performance. Particularly sucessful was the version of Holst’s Jupiter, which had been arranged by one of the tutors so that the children were playing one set of parts and the adult players another. The confetti cannons at the end were also great fun and were very popular with the children!






















Last week I went back to Raploch on one of the projects organised ‘learning visits’, where we got to see a range of sessions with the children, including a string ensemble, brass and woodwind session, a horn masterclass, a musicianship session with the more senior ‘Rinconada’ ensemble (in which we participated as well – good fun!) and a performance by a few of the groups to their parents. It was great to see the teaching methods and learning processes that are behind a performance like the one I saw at the Albert Halls.

This summer, I’m hoping to go back to Stirling and volunteer at the Big Noise summer school. It runs from 27th June to 5th August, but I’m starting on July 8th, as I only graduate on the 5th July.

Other things that have been happening include Stringfest, a three day festival of string music at the Academy, with concerts featuring students and staff of the academy, and a performance of Scgubert’s sublime quintet in C major by International Fellows the Brodsky Quartet with Robert Irvine. This concert was superb, and was made even more exciting by the fact the Robert’s bow broke spectacularly mid way through the third movement (the wedge at the tip that keeps the hair in place came out, taking all the hair with it!). He calmly walked off to retrieve his spare bow and the concert continued – it must have been pretty hair-raising for him (ha ha, sorry!)

I played in 2 concerts in Stringfest: I was principal viola in the string ensemble concert, in which we played Elgar’s beautiful Serenade for strings, Bartok’s footstomping Romanian Dances and Bach’s wonderful Ricercare, directed by Jim Clark (leader of RSNO). I also joined Gongbo Jiang, Wen Wang, Hua Zhong and Dave Sloan for a performance of Mozart’s Quintet in C major for 2 violas, which went well and was used for the chamber music component of my assessment.

More recently, a massive amount of my time has been devoted to rehearsing the Academy’s opera for this term, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, conducted by Tim Dean and with singers from the Academy’s Opera School. It’s a cracking piece, with some great tunes – my only sadness is that, from the depths of the orchestra pit, I can’t see what’s happening on the stage! All I know is that there are some very real looking trees up there, and that the gingerbread house is an ice cream van covered in giant lollys, cupcakes and candy floss…. The opening night is tomorrow (Sat 25th June) at 7.15pm, and the other performances are on Mon 27th, Weds 29th and Thurs 30th, all at 7.15pm in the New Athenaem theatre, so you can come along and see what I mean!

Oh yes, and I found out that I got Distinction for my Postgraduate Diploma – yay! Very pleased about that 🙂

Top things this week

-Seeing my friend Rachel Spencer perform Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in their Masterclass session at the City Halls. Also performing were Graeme Brown, bassoon, Glynn Forrest, marimba, and Jonathan Wettermark, trombone.

-Working on the Walton in collaboration with my teacher (Jane Atkins) and my accompanist for the competition (Scott Mitchell) to develop my own version of bowings, fingerings, tempos and phrasings

-Hearing about community music projects ‘The Big Noise’ (based in Raploch, Stirling) and ‘Givin’ It Laldie’ (based in the Gorbals, Glasgow) at the Music Learning Live conference – amazing work and very inspirational! The best part of both talks was seeing the children from both projects perform – the enthusiasm and dedication of these young kids is wonderful to see. In the Big Noise after school orchestra, the children are aged from 7 to 11. When I asked the leader of the orchestra what she wanted to do in the future she said without hesitation, ‘I want to be a hairdresser and a violinist, at the same time!’ After the presentation, I talked to one of the staff members and she said that I could arrange to visit the project sometime, which I will definitely try and do.

Music Learning Live

Today I’m off to a big conference at the academy called ‘Music Learning Live’- see the programme here

The keynote is being given by Andrew Dixon, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland. I’m hoping to attend a session about Sistema Scotland, a project which has been started in Raploch, Stirling, which emulates El Sistema, a social programme in Venezuela which provides orchestral training for young people from poor backgrounds.