World Music School – The story of a cultural PoP UP in Shanghai

World Music School – The story of a cultural PoP UP in Shanghai As with so many ventures it becomes finally “visible” like an overnight success with 15 years or so or preparation. So it is with this new concept of the World Music School Shanghai which is part of a bigger organically grown bottom-up approach to learning. The initiator, "World Music School Helsinki", began in 2016, when some people with various background got together and fused their life experiences and formed an association for learning music as a mother tongue, (look at the main site The idea that the school can be developed in different cities is important so as to give a chance to build up the network and allow the regional influence to impact the school itself. Shanghai is a very vibrant and colorful city with a fusion of cultures and innovations going on. This is probably why even at this very early stage WMS SH is already reflecting the experimental fusion of the city from which it’s emerging.


I did previously mention 15 or so years of experience but the schools were only recently established, the concept has been around for a lot longer, let me explain. My work as a creative systemic researcher has led me down many paths which are actually connected like a web, rather than the traditional idea of following a liner direction. My interest in the way we all learn means that there are many ways of understanding as there are “pathways” which individuals can experience, but collectively, takes on a whole lot more impact and meaning for all involved. This holistic approach to learning has its roots in systems thinking which true to form has itself gone through its own transformations from cybernetics and management to social and biological systems and beyond. It’s still transforming even now… 


So if we are looking at learning for the 21st century maybe we need to think of new methods of learning in the wider community too, since the output of science is not much good if it’s not shared. This thinking opens up some fairly interesting possibilities for ways of contributing and perhaps transforming learning pedagogy or different ways people in our communities experience these qualities.

There is also a very serious side to this thinking. A society that can learn in many different ways, that can also be adaptive and also be resilient.

So through the joy of learning experiences that are based on very thoughtful learning structures, we hope to build communities of learners that are confident, resilient and aware.

In short, we are just using systems thinking as a language for learning... 


The WMS has since spread to Porto, Portugal and now Shanghai… (with more cities to come I'm sure). The idea is that the city provides an enviable backdrop where local culture and pace fuse with the bottom-up growth of this educational platform for social innovation. This, of course, takes a little time to get going and like with most things, you need to start somewhere. Since I was a founding member from WMS Helsinki, now also based in Shanghai at Tongji University at the College of Design and Innovation, it made sense that the initial seeds were planted there to grow the platform. Initial members that came together quite naturally from conversations and mutual interests will continue to help build connections and grow the network for planned activities to come.

Initially, WHS SH did a pitch at SLUSH SH volunteer's day (SLUSH, initially a Finnish innovation event, now global where ideas and startups meet potential investors, also can be considered social innovation), where several people got interested in including the people. So all in all, about 17 people joined up to put together the first events and ideas for the year 2017 and into 2018. We had some initial meetings at Tongji University and downtown and this is where the idea of a drum event was first discussed. The WMS SH is just taking its first steps and work happens at different paces according to what is needed. The kick-off event which was agreed to during the initial meetings was the drumming event ( informed by a member with experience as a drum master during the 2012 Olympics). The WMS SH needs to continue at a slower pace, laying down foundations and building the next stages for more to join and take the next steps for growth, as is the way of social innovation platforms.

During March and April 2017, colleagues from Tongji University suggested partnering with the HQ middle school since this school already had facilities and a musical focus and the right type of ideas regarding learning and community involvement. The HQ international school has since has been very supportive, offering their school as the venue for this kick-off event, that took place in 2017.


the idea of doing a drumming event like the one from the 2012 London Olympics was adopted. The initial group came up with a name "A million drums", and many more joined for the purpose of supporting this proposal moving forward as a kick-off event. There were many volunteers including the listed team members, drum masters, colleagues at HQ international school and some key players from WMS SH.(see info). Drum masters met regularly to practice and plan and the marketing was a massive effort from all sides with the result of over 300 people registering.

"A Million Drums", was an amazing effort by so many, making a change and reaching people through a passion for music and learning without any previous experience needed. This event brought people together that continue what they have started. 


The idea that music and creativity can move people as a social innovation is what our 21st century is already proving to be. We are just suggesting a way to co-evolve with what is already happening and hopefully empower learning for anyone interested. It’s an inclusive educational platform for anyone between 8 to 80. We are human and learning by doing means we don’t always get it right...but that ain’t bad either! 


For now, watch this space… and as they say, the rest is history…