Friday, April 08, 2011


Thanks to everyone for the extensive support and encouragement for SHOUT OUT! MUSIC EDUCATION FOR ALL this week! Here is today's haul: TV presenter Clemency Burton-Hill and cellist, composer and very constructive thinker Philip Sheppard both have some strong words for us. 

Meanwhile a message from 'Add Music to the English Bacc' tells us that the implications of excluding it from the subject range would be much more far-reaching than simply leaving musicians unqualified: it would most likely mean that music would not remain in the National Curriculum at all. The fight is in fact for its very survival. 

The new issue of Classical Music Magazine, out today, is guest-edited by Julian Lloyd-Webber and is devoted to the issues surrounding music education. It's a matter of urgency. It takes so long to build up a system - yet a whole generation's hopes and aspirations can be swept away along with that system at one stroke of a politician's pen. Don't let it happen.

CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL TV presenter, writer and violinist

Let’s get something straight: this is not about creating a new generation of professional musicians. Okay, so we have no idea which of our future Rattles or Terfels or Lloyd-Webbers might never emerge if these cuts to music education services go ahead. But let’s put that galling vision of lost potential, both cultural and economic, aside for a moment.

This is about creating a new generation of human beings. The question of whether it matters that local music teaching in Britain is to be slashed is a question that goes right to the heart of who we are as a society – and more importantly, who we want to be. And not because we want to produce armies of future Lang Langs – although, imagine! – but because the things that a music education in childhood can inspire are inestimable, even if that child does not grow up to be a ‘Musician’.

When it comes to education, I’m aware that I have been blessed. I attended top secondary schools (on full music scholarships, as it happens) and I went on to study at one of the best universities in the world (when it was still pretty cheap to do so). But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the single most important element of my education was not the high-achieving school or the storied college: it was being given a violin when I was a child and being taught the universal language of music at the same time as I was learning to speak, to communicate, to navigate my own little place in the world. Through music, especially in group lessons, I began to grasp a deeper understanding of my relationship to other human beings, and not just those around me, but all over the world. Music teaches us so much more than music, some of which is calculable, provable, quantifiable – the discipline, the team-work, the brain-hand-eye co-ordination, the sheer mental rigour; some of which – the humanity, when it comes down to it – is ineffable, and precious. We jeopardise it at our peril.

PHILIP SHEPPARD cellist and composer

The way that local authorities are passing on the cuts without an intelligent and lateral thought process is alarming and short sighted. While it's easy to get angry at the government for instigating this chain of events, we are all victims of a situation rooted partly in greed, partly in ignorance, and wholly in short-termism. As a creative community we need to balance anger with practical solutions.

No politician is going to champion music while it is perceived as a luxury. We know that active music-making is an extraordinary vehicle for developing intelligence, developing a sense of self and learning immensely subtle communication skills. Plato believed that everything could be taught through gymnasia and music, yet these are the subjects being eroded from the curriculum.

I think this is the time for bold moves.

Why not develop a system for teaching music to a far wider range of pupils, with training for parents too? Many of the mothers I talk to at toddler groups are embarrassed to sing to their children, yet this is the most important developmental musical phase. Kodaly technique, Dalcroze Eurythmics and pure Suzuki (not the Western interpretation of it) are potent ways to teach large groups of chdren advanced musicianship at relatively low cost in terms of teacher/pupil ratio. In fact I think it's possible to weather the cuts whilst widening the reach of our music tuition.

Students who show particular aptitude for music through voice classes could be offered free instruments (on loan) and free class tuition. This could then filter through to individual coaching where talent becomes evident. The purchase of instruments used to be a major stumbling block to many parents but these days you can get quite a decent student violin for £50. I have worked many times at the Harlem Center for young musicians in New York, which has developed a meritocratic instrument loan scheme. It functions in an environment where music education has even poorer funding than the UK.

I know this all sounds very idealistic, but the bigger the idea, the more likely it is to attract backing. I spoke at a committee in parliament this week where the overwhelming impression was that the voters don't feel strongly about music, therefore it's not a priority for any government.

We as musicians need to be hugely creative in demonstrating that music is the oil smoothing the engine of a civilized society, whilst also suggesting systems to deliver training highly efficiently.

The critical element that I feel is passed over is the importance of creative composition for children. If drama or art was taught one-to-one with an emphasis mainly on the interpretation of existing works, it would be a scandal, and yet we allow this to be the case with many aspects of music training. Repertoire and technique alongside the constant creation of new work will engage children and parents to the point when there is an overwhelming demand for more - preferably free - music tuition.