Written by Editorial Team, DonateToday
Published: Wednesday, 4th April 2018

Taking a look inside Sahana Gero's World Heart Beat Music Academy where the words 'disadvantaged' and 'inequality' are left at the door

Sahana Gero founded the World Heart Beat Music Academy in London in the early years of the new millennium, after what she calls ‘the first big wave of cuts in music education.’

Cuts

‘In 2000,’ Sahana explains, ‘When the first big wave of cuts in music education was happening, I founded The 51st State Band to provide for children who wouldn’t have the chance to play a musical instrument.

‘It was a one-evening-a-week project, but it became the biggest in the whole of London – maybe the biggest at the time in the UK,’ she continues. 

‘I was travelling at the same time with my own group – travelling around 50 countries across the world – and also spending a lot of time in New York, giving concerts to the United Nations delegates so I brought a lot of music back from America.

‘It was something really fresh – I set up the concert band in an American style: you didn’t need to audition to play, and you would actually become really good.’ 

After giving a couple of concerts to a packed-out Royal Festival Hall, Sahana’s ambitions for her community project grew. ‘There was a need to have a music academy that reached more people of different backgrounds,’ she explains. ‘Not just with a concert band’s instruments, but everything else so we founded the Academy as a charity.

‘We found a derelict building with no heating that nobody wanted and persuaded the landlord to give it to us rent-free, in exchange for some radiators. We opened the doors, and the rest is history.’

Creative Picture

The World Heart Beat Music Academy is much more than simply somewhere a child can go after school for piano lessons, however. A brief search online yields YouTube videos of flash mob-style masse performances in shopping centres and a particularly moving montage of children explaining the profound effects the academy has had on them – both musically and emotionally.

Youngsters get the chance to learn a variety of musical instruments and styles at the World Heart Beat Music Academy

‘We look at the child on a long-term basis,’ Sahana explains. ‘They’ll be supported throughout the whole creative industry.’ What this means is that, as well as the music lessons and performances, students of the World Heart Beat Music Academy will be supported to pursue successful, sustainable careers in the creative industry – exploring areas such as vlogging and the creation of music videos. 

‘A child might come in and learn violin,’ Sahana goes on, ‘But we’ll also teach them to play by ear; Celtic fiddle, gypsy fiddle or jazz classes and New Orleans music. They’ll come to contemporary keyboard and song-writing – they’ll grow up with a whole creative picture around them.’

Where Disadvantage and Inequality are Taken Away

And does the holistic approach work? You bet. ‘Yesterday, there was a boy who we’ve been supporting since he was seven years old,’ says Sahana. ‘First of all, he learnt the saxophone, then he came to play in our band. He liked jazz so we helped him learn that; we then connected him with the idea of vlogging and creating music videos, and then he played the piano.

‘He got a scholarship to go to the Royal Academy of Music, and he’s just released his first album. He came by yesterday with his band and some merchandise – when you see somebody from the age of seven, launching their first album at the age of 21, having just finished college, you’re incredibly proud of them.’ 

Success for the World Heart Beat Academy isn’t just restricted to musical measures, either. ‘One young boy had about two lessons then stopped coming,’ Sahana remembers. ‘We asked what had happened and the mother said they couldn’t afford to eat. I said: “OK, just come and we’ll be able to support him.

‘He’s been learning Celtic fiddle, gypsy fiddle; we’ve given him classical training and now he’s doing jazz classes and started writing his own music. 

‘Also, his teachers all said he was really failing with English and maths,’ Sahana continues, ‘So one of our trustees came and volunteered her time once a week to give him English and maths coaching.

‘After literally a few weeks, he’s caught up two years in almost no time and his confidence has grown, and he’s also just got into a really good school – before the options would have been nowhere: when kids come into our place, the words ‘disadvantage’ and ‘inequality’ are taken away.’

Excel

Children from all walks of life get the opportunity to learn a musical instrument at the World Heart Beat Music Academy

Since its foundation, the World Heart Beat Music Academy has garnered almost universal praise, and has several prestigious awards to show for it, including an Action for Children’s Arts Members’ Award and the Members’ of Parliament ‘Inspire the House’ award for best community group at the Kids Count Awards. However, the charity has no intention of resting on its laurels.

They are currently raising money to help 70 more disadvantaged children learn a musical instrument, and they are also looking to fund a new performance venue and recording studio by inviting donors to name a seat in the new location. 

Having spoken to the charity’s founder, it’s impossible not to share Sahana’s enthusiasm for the World Heart Beat Music Academy and to be inspired by her confidence: ‘The children all excel because we find programmes and routes to help them excel.’