Showing posts with label James Rhodes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Rhodes. Show all posts

Friday, January 29, 2016

Did you know the UK's creative industries are worth £10m per hour?

I've been to a marvellous party (as Noel Coward would say) - held by EdmissionUK, the international higher education and cultural consultants, for the company's tenth birthday. The idea for the evening, according to its head honcho Lewis Owens (who is also the author of Like a Chemist from Canada, the play about Shostakovich in Oxford, performed last summer at the Royal Academy of Music), was to put a large group of creative people - musicians, writers, technology people, historians, academics, record producers, you name it -  in a room together with some drinks and give them a chance to be creative together.

We had speeches from, among other people, the inimitable James Rhodes, who pointed out in terms I simply cannot reproduce online that the visionary plan for music in education that was produced at official levels around five years ago could not have collapsed more spectacularly if it had tried. The idea, he reminded us, was that every schoolchild in the country should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and to take their learning to higher levels if they wished. Gone. Today, the "40 per cent" of children learning an instrument that the government likes to remark on might actually consist of three children in a class of 30 learning the ukelele for 20 minutes a week in a group. Schools in impoverished areas of the system can't afford the facilities to buy, store or insure instruments. James mentioned that he had offered to give £25k of his own to a school he visited to help set up some music facilities, but was told that any money donated would go straight into numeracy or literacy instead.

That budget for the suggested new London concert hall - he cited £400m, though the consultation said £278m, but I'm not sure anyone quite believes the lower figure - would amount to five years of musical education for the entire country. Our own generations, he said, grew up taking music in school for granted, but this has been systematically eradicated with nothing counting in school assessments now except literacy and numeracy, even though learning music can aid both and can be beneficial in all manner of other ways, as has been proven and proven again. He worries not about where the performers for that new hall will come from in 20-30 years' time, he remarked, but where the audiences will come from. A whole generation is growing up without a clue about what music really is. This despite the fact that the creative industries are apparently growing at around twice the speed of any other sphere of contributions to the UK's economy and are worth about £10m per hour.

It's down to all of us to do something about this, since the chances of the government doing so are looking remote. What can we do? To begin with, keep on keeping on. Keep playing, composing, recording, writing, getting our stuff out there and making as much noise as we can about it.

At the same time, the Barbican, the Southbank Centre and the Wigmore Hall have all announced their 2016-17 seasons this week, and they are humdingers filled with wonderful, inspired ideas and many of the greatest musicians in the world. And the number of alternative venues has never been greater - fizzing initiatives like Nonclassical, Club Inégales and Multistory are alive and flourishing in the clubs of Hoxton. I wonder if we have any idea how lucky we really are here in London? The question is: how do we bridge the ever-widening gap in the middle, between the marvels that are brought to this still-fabulous city and the vast swathes of people who don't even know that it exists?

Incidentally, I asked James if he'd like to post the text of his speech here on JDCMB, but he said he hadn't written it down. I do think that if more musicians could learn to present speeches as strongly and eloquently as he does, that would be of considerable value.

In one of those strange counterpoints, I've found words from a very different pianist, from a bygone age, proving that our concerns are nothing new, and that over the decades, probably the centuries, those in music have been tussling with these same issues and finding little more effective than allowing people the chance to actually hear the music.

Here are a few words from Dame Myra Hess, from her speech at the lunch following the presentation of her honorary degree at Cambridge in 1949, looking back at her extraordinary series of lunchtime concerts in the National Gallery that took place during World War II. (If you ever get a chance to see Admission: One Shilling, written by Myra's great-nephew Nigel Hess and performed by Patricia Routledge and Piers Lane, please do - it's fabulous...)

She told the story of a young sailor she met after the war, who told her that he had stumbled upon the concerts by chance and found it "a damned good show".

"He then told me that by the end of the war six of them, Petty-Officers, whenever they had a day's leave, would never miss an opportunity of coming to the concerts. This is only one instance of what must have happened thousands of times. The opportunity then existed for people to discover that something had been missing from their lives; nobody told them that a Beethoven or a Mozart Quartet was high-brow, or beyond their understanding; they just sat back, listened, and a new world opened to them."

She went on to explain exactly why it was vital to "enlarge the scope of public music-making", thus: "In times as unsettled as our own, music can have a profound influence for good. It is unfettered by the barrier of words, and needs no translation; and therefore it is one of the great forces that can bring people together in mind and spirit." She then wondered how this could be achieved and said that she hoped "the forces of habit and prejudice in the musical world" would give way in due course to "a more enlightened view of our present needs".

That was 1949 - nearly 77 years ago. We're still wondering now. I will give that beloved angel of a pianist the last word.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A pianist's victory for the right to speak out

The pianist James Rhodes has won the right to publish his traumatic memoirs after a lengthy legal battle in which an injunction to prevent its release was raised by his ex-wife in the court of appeal. He was at Classical:NEXT in Rotterdam the other day and gave this interview to The Guardian while there.

There's another significance for this besides freedom of speech. In a music world that has been riven by revelations of historic sexual abuse of schoolchildren and college pupils, for which several people have gone to jail in recent years, this memoir has not come a moment too soon.

All too often victims of abuse in childhood are not believed when they speak up as adults, or are put through torments in court of the type that allegedly led to the death by overdose of the violinist Frances Andrade in 2013. Rhodes is a powerful communicator and eloquent with both words and music. He is the person who has now been brave enough to tell us all the truth, to show us what the realities of this living hell are - for nobody can imagine it for themselves if they have not experienced such a thing - and thus offers us a chance to understand what happens, what the long-term effects are and therefore why it is so important that we don't keep on turning a blind eye or blaming the victims for somehow, supposedly, bringing these horrors on themselves.

We owe it to him and to other people who have been through such experiences to treat them at the very least with compassion. The German word for compassion, 'Mitleid' (see Parsifal), explains this better than anything else: literally meaning "with sorrow" - i.e., sorrowing together. And as Parsifal shows us, the presence of this quality in other human beings is an essential ingredient in the start of a healing process of sorts that cannot take place without it.

As for freedom of speech, this is a major victory - and hopefully will set a precedent for other situations in which people speak up, tell the truth yet are silenced by a society that just doesn't want to know and tries to find official ways to make sure it needn't. As the court ruled: "The right to report the truth is justification in itself."

English PEN, Index on Censorship and Article 19 all intervened at the Supreme Court, pointing out that the implications were the book to be suppressed would have "a chilling effect on the production and publication of serious works of public interest and concern".

English PEN reports:

In a robust defence of freedom of expression, the court ruled: ‘The only proper conclusion is that there is every justification for the publication. A person who has suffered in the way that the appellant has suffered, and has struggled to cope with the consequences of his suffering in the way that he has struggled, has the right to tell the world about it.’
The Supreme Court criticised the Court of Appeal’s ruling in its judgment, stating that the terms of the injunction were flawed and voicing its concern about the curtailment of freedom of speech:
‘Freedom to report the truth is a basic right to which the law gives a very high level of protection. It is difficult to envisage any circumstances in which speech which is not deceptive, threatening or possibly abusive, could give rise to liability in tort for wilful infringement of another’s right to personal safety. The right to report the truth is justification in itself. That is not to say that the right of disclosure is absolute, for a person may owe a duty to treat information as private or confidential. But there is no general law prohibiting the publication of facts which will cause distress to another, even if that is the person’s intention.’

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


All this week here on JDCMB, some of the stars of British musical life share their firm conviction that musical education should be available to all children, regardless of wealth. They offer their personal memories and gratitude for the opportunities that were open to them, without which they might not be where they are today. And, just as the Big Noise of Sistema Scotland releases some truly astonishing statistics about the impact and beneficial effects of its programme at Raploch - eg, 100 per cent of parents reported their children's confidence increased by music-making - they remind us that music does more for the soul than can ever meet the eye...

Today we hear from James Rhodes, Errollyn Wallen and Nick van Bloss. Over to you, guys...

"Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Mozart, et al, are and always will be the musical equivalent of Shakespeare, Byron and Chaucer. To make cuts in our education system that will make music-making and even music-listening the preserve of the wealthy is an appalling indictment of our society. As a child I found it was these great composers that offered a rare glimpse of something bigger and brighter than the rest of my educational world. Being able to torture my teacher with my dire piano playing, listening to Peter and the Wolf, watching a talented ex-pupil play Chopin on stage - all of these things were vital and extraordinary experiences that in some way moulded and shaped my desire to immerse myself in music and, perhaps more importantly, gave me the feeling that there was something infinitely more exciting than my rather one-dimensional and painful schooldays. 

"To cut or remove classical music from the curriculum would be tantamount to substituting Shakespeare with Grisham - a cheapening and eroding of our cultural heritage that will have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. Accessibility is a vital part of education. In the land that gave us Britten, Elgar, the Proms and Cheryl Cole, surely music education is a right and not a privilege. The success of El Sistema in Venezuela and the global inspiration it has produced should provide a clear message - the life-changing power of music is something to be treasured and supported. Music will always survive; far better it does so because of our government rather than despite it. "

"I was nine years old when, walking along my street in Tottenham, North London, holding my uncle’s hand, I confided that I heard music all the time in my head which I didn’t know what to do with. It was my Uncle Arthur who suggested that I might be a composer.

"It has been a long and winding road towards acquiring all the education and skills I needed but without the good start I had – a wonderful music teacher, Miss Beale, at our state primary school in Tottenham who taught everyone in the class to read and write music at the age of nine and who encouraged me to write my first ensemble composition for the class – Frogs and Toads – it would have been an even harder journey.

"I’ve just finished a day’s work on what is my eleventh opera. I still hear music all the time in my head and am full of plans for the future. I am never without a commission.  My music has been, on a NASA mission, to outer space.

"Every single day I give thanks for the musical education which made my career as a professional composer possible.  I believe that everyone who wants to, regardless of their background, should have access to the tools of this most remarkable trade."

"The days of considering music to be a mere hobby for the rich, a luxury, something of no intrinsic value, are surely over? Or are they...? Children of all ages are fascinated and stimulated by sound. They are 'wowed over' when they watch a virtuoso, thrilled when they experience a symphony orchestra. Given the chance, they're eager to pick up an instrument and ‘have a go’ - to engage, to 'create'.

"Budgetary cuts affect music education disproportionately.  Students are still being taught the full school curriculum but instrumental teaching is being slashed. It is obviously the funding structure which should be amended, so that when cuts have to be made, the basic building blocks of music education are not annihilated overnight.

"The Longfellow quotation, 'Music is the universal language of mankind', may sound like a cliche, but, can we, as a society, deprive children the chance of experiencing this 'language'? The benefits of music education are numerous. It has a multitude of applications physical, artistic, cognitive, creative, social, therapeutic, intellectual...  No matter who we are, it is a major force in our lives. 

"It would be a sad indictment of our society if we not only ignore the benefits of music education, but if we deny a generation the chance of experiencing even a few of the wonders music has to offer. Music itself is a great survivor, but the route of passing it on to others has rarely been more fragile."