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World Heart Beat Music Academy

Less than two years ago, conductor and music teacher, Sahana Gero, stood in front of a derelict building in a quiet back street of industrial Wandsworth and took the first steps to realising her dream – to establish a world class, non-profit music school for children with the passion but without the means to learn a musical instrument.

She convinced the landlord to give her the building rent-free for a year if she renovated it. With the help of a group of supporters, Sahana turned the abandoned building into a boldly coloured, soundproofed music school complete with performance space and lesson rooms. Although the World Heart Beat Music Academy opened its doors in May 2012, it did so with no teachers, no classes and no students - but it did have one instrument – Sahana’s grandfather’s upright piano. Within a few months she had a grand piano donated by a local Wandsworth resident, 23 violins, 20 guitars, one drum kit and six tabla sets.

As we sip coffee, seated in a well-worn sofa in a corner of the brightly coloured main hall, Sahana shares her journey and the extent of the physical transformation becomes apparent as does the impact it has on students. It is now has more than 200 students who receive private tuition and participate in public concerts both at the academy and other venues, including the Putney Arts Theatre. The Academy has established an international scholarship in Los Angeles and has a sponsorship program with Gucci Timepieces & Jewellery, which led to students being flown to Florence to perform live at a major product launch. They return this month to perform at the prestigious Palazzo Corsini.

Sahana is a clarinettist, music teacher and conductor driven by her belief in the power of music to transform lives. ‘Every child is born with a connection to music, which begins with the most essential rhythm of life – the heart beat. It is a source of joy and purpose that stays with us throughout our lives,’ she tells me.

The academy grew out of an earlier program Sahana established to help disadvantaged children, the 51st State Band, which grew into the largest community concert band in London. The music is broad ranging from traditional instruments such as the violin and piano to jazz, reggae and a newly introduced Celtic program.

As we watch the students practising and interacting a sense of family becomes increasingly evident. The impact that Sahana has had on their lives is also apparent in the way they relate to her – a combination of respect and warmth. Several students openly acknowledge the positive influence the academy has had on their lives with one boy going so far as to say it put an end to his days of petty crime.

The academy is a centre of music excellence which attracts inspirational musicians from around the world who come to teach. In return, students are required to be disciplined and committed. ‘We want children to experience the joy of music but they must be serious and sincere students looking to achieve,’ Sahana tells me.

She has achieved a remarkable amount in such a short time and all through fundraising, donations and support from the local community. However, the unforeseen growth and popularity of the academy means space is an issue. ‘It is not sustainable. We can’t fit all of the students in here and we are continuing to grow. I don’t want to turn anyone away but we need more space. My ultimate goal is to have a purpose built, permanent home for the academy that can accommodate our growth.’

I have no doubt she will achieve it.

Next concert: 31 January - Cleveland Watkiss live and the Stardust People Jazz Improvising Choir in Concert. www.worldheartbeat.org

Sahana GeroWorld Heart Beat Music AcademyWorld Heart Beat Music Academy