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.