Showing posts with label Tasmin Little. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tasmin Little. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Don't just sit there..."

"Don't just sit there. DO something!" The line is a popular comedy feature because of its usual subtext: the person addressing it to someone else hasn't got a clue what to do themselves.

A lot of us are just sitting there at the moment, wondering what the heck to do. We do what we can on a daily basis - taking care of the family, cooking, cleaning, shopping where possible, attempting exercise, trying to get on with any work we're lucky enough to have. I'm measuring out the weeks in the fabulous streamings from National Theatre At Home, each available for seven days from Thursdays. Tom is practising Paganini and catching up on 60 years of reading (I just gave him some Nabokov, but now can't get him to put it down and go to sleep). The cats are so well combed that they look ready to win rosettes at the Somali Cat Club Show, except that it had to be cancelled.

But there remains the deep and frustrating desire to do something positive; to make a difference in this bloody crisis; to make it all go away, or at least cheer other people up a little bit.

We each revert to type under stress, while work habits also become accentuated because they make us happy through their familiarity. Yesterday I felt happy because I had virtually a normal working day. I corresponded with an editor and a PR person about an article, selling an idea to the former, then telling the latter that I'd to do an interview (over Zoom). I started transcribing a recording of another interview, had a phone conversation with someone I'm consulting with regard to the story of a forthcoming opera libretto, watched a documentary from which I can learn about that topic, worked on a largish recordings-related project and on the side took part in a super Twitter discussion about how to conduct Tchaikovsky. And I combed Ricki, of course (Tom does Cosi). Normality makes one feel better. But of course, it is only a millimetre deep; any of this may vanish at any moment. As for personal tendencies, when things are difficult, I hide. I hole myself up in my study (back at college, it was a practice room, if and when such things could actually be found) until the danger has passed...

If someone says to me "DO something", I write, because that's my profession and represents the best of what I have to give. If you are a musician, you'll want to make music, for exactly the same reason. If you are a doctor or nurse, you will want to step up to offer your best in that department. Perhaps I am a hopeless idealist, but I think people have a natural instinct to want to help when times are tough.  That makes it depressing to see the negativity with which so many cynical misery-guts  are greeting artists' efforts to do something.

If musicians and musical organisations are giving free performances online, it's not because they are committing the evil of "self-promoting" (dear American readers, you'd be amazed to hear that a certain strata of Brits regard this as the worst of cardinal sins, rather like "being in trade, darling..."). It's not because they are trying to undercut everyone and make it impossible to earn a living henceforth because this extraordinary patch is how it's gonna be forever and forever more amen. It's possibly partly because some organisations are publicly funded and have a type of moral obligation to make their work available to the public in some form. It's also a matter of musicians staying in shape, because performing is an art in itself and it's easy to fall out of the habit, the adrenalin, the resilience.

But generally, it's because they want to do something. To give something. To give their best. Anything from a live recital - Igor Levit's regular house-concerts on Twitter are among the most popular around - to playing on the balcony for the Thursday evening Clap for Carers...


Alexandra Dariescu and Andreas Flor at home in London


Indeed, you can browse the internet and find a live broadcast of chamber music from the Budapest Festival Orchestra, or Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason playing the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in the family home (that was wonderful), or Fenella Humphreys giving a violin recital from her front room after getting the audience to choose her programme via a Twitter poll, or the Royal Academy of Dancing offering Silver Swan ballet classes for the longer in tooth, or the live concert the other day from the Bavarian State Opera in which Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch performed Schumann's Dichterliebe to an empty theatre, which was fabulous but heartbreaking ("Music without an audience just isn't the same," Kaufmann commented to the camera afterwards).

Yes, there is a glut of stuff; yes, it is often marvellous; no, it is no substitute whatsoever for attending the real live thing in a performance space shared with the performers and 500-3000+ other people. I don't believe the digital option is something we should expect to become the be-all and end-all forever, even though the virus danger needs to be much reduced before we can think of safely attending mass events again. No, it's simply the Thin End of the Wedge, and we all know it, but we hesitate to say so, either because we're trying to be terribly positive about things, or because we are bloody terrified. Neither is a reason to malign people's intent in providing this material.

If you object to people giving their work away for free, you are correct that of course they shouldn't have to. It is well known that streaming is daylight robbery in terms of proportion of income that goes to the companies versus that to the person actually providing the material, i.e. the artist. The artists should be able to earn a decent living from their work; it is scandalous that they do not. And it's usually not their fault - they've been got over a barrel and been forced to sign away their rights (small person versus big company: 'twas ever so). Ditto writers; since the Net Book Agreement, which set the price of a book, was done away with, incomes have plummeted and the only way is down.

However, streaming on the internet in times of crisis is an issue on its own. This is a period in which household incomes are shattered and in some cases completely non-existent. Ordering your colleagues not to do free work in case they find that people get used to it and expect it forever is really not the answer (not least because it is already too late).

May I suggest something constructive?

There are a number of crowdfunding platforms online which are suitable for musicians and writers. On Buy Me A Coffee, you can ask patrons to contribute the price of a cuppa after enjoying your work. Patreon enables (I think) people to offer you a chosen amount every month. GoFundMe seems easy to use, is efficient, lets you set a target but keep whatever funds are raised even if you don't reach that amount. And there are of course many more. I recommend that musicians offering free streaming could set up an account on one of these and encourage those who can to contribute as large or small an amount as they wish. I recommend, too, that those with the means could offer as much as they can to support their preferred artists.

On a larger scale, the big companies - the National Theatre included - present a request for a donation with every streaming. Most theatres, festivals and concert halls that have had to cancel their performances will offer you the option of donating your ticket price to help the company and its artists to weather this blast, and if you feel able to do that it is a very, very good thing.

There are plenty of charities, such as Help Musicians UK, which will be massively grateful for donations and provides grants for musicians in financial trouble. You can help in all kinds of ways, and the latest is your very own Tasmingram to say it with music: Tasmin Little is offering musical video messages specially recorded for you, in aid of Help Musicians UK (it's £35, the same cost as a nice bouquet - more details here).

As for those individuals who disparage all internet music on the grounds of No Free Performance and No Internet Presence, please contribute a donation to everything you hear, watch or read, and then you won't feel so bad. Indeed, you will feel that you did something worthwhile - and quite rightly so.



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Tribute to Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little
Photo: Paul Mitchell

Last week Tasmin Little, one of the UK's top violin soloists, announced that she has decided to 'hang up her concert gown' in 2020. Plenty to do, she says, but no more concerts. Here's the story from The Strad.

A flood of tributes has been pouring in and I'm adding to that. But I can't deny that here the news initially came as a shock. It so happens that Tasmin is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We're the same age and got to know each other when we were 17 - long before I had any notion I'd become a journalist. She is the first of our circle - possibly the first of any of my immediate 'peer group' - to hint at the word 'retire'. Not that she's said 'retire' as such - her website says that she will be 'ending her concert career' - but effectively this means retiring from the stage. It pulls one up short: whaddaya mean, 'retire'? We're only 17...aren't we? Heavens. Does time really go this fast?

Oh, yes. It does. And for any international classical soloist it goes faster still. A glance at a random selection of appropriate Twitter feeds will be enough to prove that musicians probably spend more time in airports than they do on the concert platform, that the matter of playing an instrument is highly physical, that the continual round of jet-lag, adrenaline and performance pressure demands great resilience in addition to evident talent.

I decided at the age of 23 to face the fact that I wasn't cut out for a piano career, and though I missed it at first, I've never doubted that stopping then was the right thing to do. Years on, I don't know how anyone does it at all.

I don't blame Tasmin one bit for wanting a change and I have the utmost respect for her decision, which can't have been easy. She is making the choice in a manner that is objective, in control and powered by self-knowledge. And I know she will excel at whatever she turns her hand to next - she has so much to give.

She is also in good company. My second-ever interviewee, when I was 21, was the great Italian violinist Gioconda de Vito. She was turning 80 and I went to talk to her for The Strad. She lived in Rickmansworth in a house surrounded by a beautiful garden full of birds and animals, and her husband translated for her since she had never learned to speak fluent English. She had retired in her fifties at the peak of her career. She played to the Pope. Then decided things couldn't get any better than that. She'd heard a late recital by the elderly Alfred Cortot, a car-crash full of wrong notes, and did not want to follow his example. So she stopped. I was intrigued: didn't she miss it? She didn't. At 21 I was incredulous. Several decades later, I understand it a lot better.

Tasmin has weathered everything magnificently, her zest for life and fun and music sparkling out of that Guadagnini, lighting up with joy and positivity every hall and every room she enters. She is one of the most extraordinarily consistent individuals I've been lucky enough to know: pure gold all the way through.

A lively interview from The Violin Channel


Tasmin and I met for the first time at a private recital by a mutual pianist friend at my (and the friend's) piano teacher's house. It was December 1983. I'd just done A levels, was having what was then called a 'year out' (the term 'gap yaar' was yet to be devised) and was learning to drive. Tasmin had reached the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year the previous year; now she was fresh out of the Menuhin School, going to the Guildhall, and wanted driving lessons too. It turned out we lived near each other, so she called me the next day to ask for my driving teacher's number and to invite me round for supper.

I was enchanted by the Littles. Tasmin is from a gloriously theatrical family. Her father is the actor George Little, whose splendid performances I enjoyed very much - in particular the one-man show he wrote, Paradise Garden, about growing up during the war in Bradford, culminating with the revelation of local boy Frederick Delius's music on the radio... Charismatic, funny and warm, he was an irresistible presence and Tasmin learned much about public presentation from him, as well as how to turn pre-performance adrenaline to advantage. Jilly, her mother, is just as sunny, extrovert and full of good humour. They could scarcely have been more different from my own parents, who were quiet, academic and somewhat shy, tending to keep themselves to themselves, whether by accident or design.

Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending at the Proms in 1995, conducted by Andrew Davis



Living a longish tube ride from my school, I'd been friendly with a circle of girls from another part of the suburbs altogether and did too little socialising out of hours. But to find a friend down the road - well, that was a first. Even today, one of my favourite memories of Tasmin is the time, one afternoon not long after that, she invited me along to a masterclass at the Purcell Room in which she was playing to Michel Schwalbé, the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan. I was on the edge of my seat, soaking up all that was going on (he was quite a personality - that's another story). Afterwards we sloped off to unwind. We hopped on the Bakerloo Line to Piccadilly Circus, wandered through Chinatown and feasted royally on red bean buns. Afterwards we went back to my house, where my mum tried to give us a nice healthy supper, but could we eat? Er...

Over the years, friends sometimes vanish. New study environments, moves of house, demanding jobs, marriages, children and so forth, or simply growing apart - everything conspires against keeping in touch. But Tasmin never vanished. She went to study in Canada with Lorand Fenyves, but she always took the trouble to write letters. While I was away at university, she wrote letters (and anyway I wasn't too happy there and used to zip home whenever I could). If one has no kids (I haven't) it can be tricky keeping up with friends who do have them because often their other friends with children are prioritised, quite understandably so. That was never the case here. We followed each others' ups and downs over the years - and we both had plenty - even though life took us in very different directions. I basically sit at home with my husband and cats, writing. She travels the world with her violin, while also bringing up her two wonderful kids. I named the baby who arrives at the end of my first novel Rites of Spring after Tasmin's daughter.

Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata with Andrey Gugnin at the Sydney International Piano Competition. Andrey went on to win first prize.



I could fill this blog with memories of Tasmin. One that particularly stands out is the time I invited her to go busking at Waterloo as an experiment for The Independent, following Joshua Bell's example in Washington DC. That was an eye-opener for us both and sparked her idea to create the Naked Violin project - free access to a solo recording and plenty of information about it on the internet, which back then was groundbreaking, accompanied by a high quotient of outreach work in schools, shopping malls, oil rigs, homeless shelters and more.

Well before that, there was the time she played the Korngold Concerto in Manchester, about eight months pregnant. Later, Carnegie Hall with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic - Tom and I flew there to hear and cheer her and we all went for cocktails at the Rainbow Room. The Proms - lots of them, but especially the Ligeti Concerto with Rattle. I think that was the evening a mobile phone went off a few bars into The Rite of Spring and Rattle stopped and gave the audience a bit of a tirade about it. It's thanks to Tasmin that I got to know Roxanna Panufnik, Piers Lane and a whole galaxy of other marvellous people. And I'll always cherish the countless times we and our little group of friends who meet for lunch every few months have found ourselves falling off our chairs with laughter together, sometimes in rather nice restaurants, to everyone else's amusement.

Those memories will continue to build, but the sound of her playing, at least publicly, will soon have to rely on her recordings for preservation. Fortunately there are plenty of them, and the newest is coming out in February - recorded with the pianist John Lenehan, it's of music by fantastic composers who happen to have been women: Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth and Amy Beach (more info here from the Chandos website).

Here's a promotional video for it from Chandos: https://www.facebook.com/chandosrecords/videos/2495919247146924/?t=39

In the meantime, we still have a year and a half to enjoy the remaining concerts.

Brava bravissima, Tasmin - and more power to your elbow!




Monday, September 25, 2017

What makes a good duo?

Violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Piers Lane have been working together not just for years, but for decades. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? Ahead of their delectable Wigmore Hall concert on Saturday 30 September, I asked Tasmin what the secret of a good duo might be... and a few other things...

Tasmin Little
Photo: bbc.co.uk
JD: Hi Tasmin - we're looking forward to your concert next weekend and that is quite a line-up of pieces: Bridge, Szymanowski, Bliss and Franck! How do you go about planning your programmes?

TL: When I plan a programme, I try to think about how an audience will feel when they sit down and what the first thing they would like to listen to might be! I always think it’s important to find a good mixture of works that are more immediately accessible and works which require more concentration and even emotional commitment for the audience. I think that audiences go to concerts to be moved, entertained and sometimes challenged - so, depending on where I’m playing and the kind of audience that the venue attracts, I’ll bear that in mind. I think it’s important to start with the opening piece and also think how to finish the evening. If there’s a very substantial work, I often put it just before the interval to allow the audience a breather afterwards (and me…).



JD: Why do you think British repertoire such as Bridge and Bliss is still relatively neglected? What appeals to you about their music?

TL: I think it’s simply that these works aren’t generally known to the wider public and so there’s less call for them - the Bridge, for instance, is an early work that has youthful vigour but is not perhaps representative of his mature style. And the Bliss sonata has only recently been reconstructed - so even I didn’t know it a couple of years ago! But this music is so engaging and I love the range of nuances that both composers demand;  it is also satisfying to bring a neglected work to life and then to have a good response from an audience who have enjoyed something new. 

JD: You and Piers have been playing together pretty much forever…what makes a good duo?


Piers Lane
photo: Keith Saunders
TL: It’s vital to have a good rapport and this is something that cannot be “learned” - it is either there or it isn’t! What develops through a long association is trust and a real understanding of how the other person thinks and feels. In this way, one can be very spontaneous on stage and know that you’re not going to take your partner by surprise! Piers and I have been playing together for 30 years now so we know each other really well - we even breathe together on stage… 

JD: What’s it like to perform at the Wigmore Hall? 

TL: The Wigmore Hall is such a glorious acoustic to perform in... the sound is so good that you can play as quietly as you like and know that every member of the audience will be able to hear you. So it’s an intimate hall but with a great deal of presence to it. I love walking on that stage and thinking of all the great musicians that have sung and played there over the years - it’s very inspiring. 

JD: Have you got any new recordings out?

TL: The most recent release is of both Szymanowski concerti and the Karłowicz concerto that I recorded with Ed Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I love the Szymanowskis - they are so different from each other, the first one slightly mystical and other-worldly, and the second one completely sensual and down to earth, even rustic! The Karłowicz provides a beautiful foil for both works as it is a much more traditional concerto which is very easy to listen to and enjoy… 

JD: Other highlights for you this season?

TL: I’m excited to be going to play in Dubai with Piers in November and I’ll be playing the Britten concerto in Portugal in December. Next year I have two super trips to Australia, where I’ll be playing in Sydney and Melbourne among other places, and I’m also off to play Mozart in Spain. In between times and nearer to home, I’ll be up and down the UK for concertos and recitals and am particularly looking forward to playing with the CBSO doing Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra.



Quick reminder: you can show your enthusiasm for JDCMB by contributing a voluntary subscription at the Year of Development page on GoFundMe...

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Roxanna's Spring




1 March is one of my favourite days of the year, because its arrival means that January and February are gone and won't be back for a bit. Seasonal music is always a big JDCMB favourite, so here is a piece for the incipient spring.


This was the world premiere in 2010 of one piece in the cycle of Roxanna Panufnik's Four World Seasons: it's called 'Spring in Japan' and it is played here by Tasmin Little, for whom it was written, and the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis and led by David Le Page.

There's now a CD of the complete work - with 'Autumn in Albania', 'Tibetan Winter' and 'Indian Summer' - get it here.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Tasmin Little's speech to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education

Many thanks to Tasmin for sending this to me to run in full. 


SPEECH GIVEN IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS BY TASMIN LITTLE TO THE ALL-PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP FOR MUSIC EDUCATION 

on 2nd December 2015 to MPs, Lords and members of the music profession and teaching profession 


Tasmin Little. Photo: Paul Mitchell

Good afternoon. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Tasmin Little and I have worked as an international solo concert violinist for nearly 30 years. I've performed in every continent of the world, I have received a Classic Brit Award, a Gramophone Award and a Gold Badge Award; I am an Ambassador for The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, I have  4 Honorary degrees, a Fellowship of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and an OBE for Services to Music. A couple of weeks ago, I gave my 1500th professional performance. 

I spoke here in 2013 to a committee of MPs on the subject of music education - and it's something I feel very strongly about, because I wouldn't be here addressing you now were it not for the fact that, when I was growing up in the early 1970's, my State Primary School in London employed a full-time violin teacher. I did not come from a musical background, but was lucky enough to have a teacher of quality who was able to recognise my talent.  Any state primary school child should be able to aspire to my level of achievement but I do not believe they currently stand an equal chance of doing so. 

During the 1980's, music education in this country took a nose dive and we are still recovering from an extended period when it was very far down the list of priorities.  A whole generation missed out, not only on opportunities to enjoy playing and listening to music themselves, but, as many of them are now the teachers and parents of today, on the knowledge of what it can bring to their own children.  

I believe that many people take for granted the  importance of music - and fail to appreciate that it is an integral part of each and every person's life, whether they realise it or not.  

It's an interesting exercise to imagine for a moment, a life lived without any music of any kind - 90 per cent of YouTube would no longer exist, Ipods would be semi-redundant, almost all Radio stations, as well as hugely popular television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor would be axed.  Summer festivals such as The Proms, Latitude and Glastonbury, along with the majority of West End theatre shows,  would disappear;  Christmas would be devoid of carol singing, no-one would lock arms and sing Auld Lang Syne after the New Year chimes of Big Ben, The Pop Industry would be extinct, & films would consist only of talking, losing so much of the atmosphere and emotion induced by music. Ballet performances, catwalk shows, weddings, state ceremonies... and funerals would be seriously impoverished. I could go on and on... 


This aural diet of dry husks would make each and every one of us yearn for the vast and varied panoply of music to nourish our ears, enrich our souls, and provide joy as well as comfort.  

This is taking it to extremes as, in the context of most societies, there will always be music. Indeed the banning of music under rule of The Taliban and ISIS demonstrates how barren life would be without it. However, we are in danger in this country of putting music so far down the educational agenda that we risk not only diminishing the superb quality and status of those first class musicians who we have enjoyed up until now, but also losing a huge part of our cultural heritage.


We're all here because we believe in the importance of music in our lives and in providing high-quality music education in this country. But there really is a great deal more to be done in order to ensure that all children are receiving the best opportunities possible, and that we maintain the highest standards for our future generations.

Music is worthwhile in its own right, but I'd like to explain why music education provides so much more than the obvious. I'm hoping that you've all been given a list of 14 points which fill in more detail than I have time to talk about now. Please take this list away with you and peruse the  information, as it is based on results of research taken from all over the world.

One of these studies, a highly comprehensive one produced by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013, stated the following: 


“Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theatre or dance.” In addition, the study found that children who take music lessons “have better school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.” 

In addition to the sheer joy of playing music, there are so many additional benefits :


It improves reading and verbal skills, and helps children get good marks in exams.

It raises IQ, encourages listening and helps children learn languages more quickly. 

It strengthens the  motor cortex and improves working memory and long-term memory for visual stimuli. It helps people to manage  anxiety, enhances self-confidence, self-esteem and social and personal skills.

It slows the effects of ageing! That's got to be good news!

It also encourages creativity – no surprises there.

This next one is a particular favourite as I have experienced this a great deal over the years... Learning a musical instrument  encourages team building and, what's even better is, that these effects are not only felt by the pupils, but by the schools, and far into the wider community. 

At the ground-breaking primary school in east London, Gallions,  every child learns a string instrument – as a result, there are no discipline problems, no absenteeism from the staff, and no truancy, even though this school is situated in an area of social deprivation.

Finally, music also improves mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning.

When you consider that these skills are highly prized by the government and are vital  in a multitude of potential careers including maths, engineering, architecture, gaming and especially working with computers, it's fair to say that young musicians can pretty much succeed in any field they decide to pursue.


Which brings me to my next point – how music is perceived within the education sector. I spoke recently to the Head teacher at a nearby Grammar School and asked him why music education seems permanently to be at risk of being downgraded in the curriculum. His answer was: because it is not seen as a “facilitating subject”.  

This really makes no sense at all, based on all the research and hard evidence of what music can provide.

So this surely begs these questions: 

Why is this? 

And, crucially, what can we do about it? 

I think the first thing that needs to happen is that we must urgently invest in good teacher training. Sadly there are still many primary school teachers who are terrified to teach music because they themselves have not been taught the necessary skills to give their best – this situation is vastly unfair both on pupils and teachers.  

In addition, I do believe that there are some Head Teachers who don't understand what music can bring to their school - and I had a direct experience of this myself a couple of years ago, at a time when I was visiting a great many schools during the course of an academic year at the invitation of a County Council. 

Most schools were genuinely thrilled to have me there – however one primary school Head Teacher made it clear that my visit was a nuisance and interfered with important school routine. It was only after being incessantly pestered by the children whose classes I wasn't visiting, that she came in to see what I was up to - and finally asked me to play in the  end-of-day assembly. To her credit, she was the first to start the rapturous clapping at the end, and her parting words to me were along the lines: “I'm sorry, I know I was unfriendly when you arrived but I've had OFSTED here all week and it's been so stressful. I thought your visit was the last thing I needed. But, in reality, it was the very thing that we all needed - the highlight of the whole week."

Whilst my story has a happy ending, there is clearly so much more work that needs to be done to ensure that teachers do not feel that music is a chore, and a box to be ticked. 

I have visited hundreds of schools over the past 30 years and played to literally thousands of children of all ages, both here, and abroad in countries such as Zimbabwe and China, so I know what can happen when music is brought into the classroom and how the experience fuels the children's desire to make music themselves. 

So I've been thinking about how to facilitate the stimulus of live music in schools, so that it becomes a regular event in schools.  I've had an idea. What if a programme were developed within music colleges and universities whereby music students are given some training to go into schools to play and demonstrate their instruments, as well as chat to, the children – this would have a number of benefits:  the primary school children would have access to high-quality music; it would enable young performers to gain important performance experience; it would give teachers ideas to build on for future classroom lessons and help them feel more comfortable with the subject; live music is very good for school morale; for those many musicians whose career will take them into teaching, the  experience would be invaluable; and for those intending a career in performance, it would help equip them  with the necessary skills now needed to successfully interact with audiences of all ages, and promote one's career. 

Historically, our education system has been the envy of the world – and currently,  thousands of pupils come from abroad to enjoy what our education can provide. I don't think this is because we teach English, maths and science better than any other country - it's because we are one of the few countries that truly provides a breadth and range of curriculum essential to give each individual the maximum chance to find and develop all their talents. 

We have been a nation of innovators, precisely because of this -  and historically, we have always valued that most important quality, creativity. 

Einstein said - imagination is more important than knowledge 

And when we think of all the people in the  history of this country, who have made a difference on both an international and a domestic stage, the vast proportion were intensely creative. They were people who dared to challenge  preconceived ideas, ignore the  rules, and come up with radical innovations, both technological and artistic.  

However, if the reasons I have provided thus far are not convincing enough, then let's consider the impact of music as a financial benefit to our economy. 

UK Music has published an annual economic survey of music’s vast contribution to the UK economy. In 2014 the music industry contributed £4.1bn to the economy and the sector once again outperformed the rest of the British economy, with growth of 5% year-on-year; the industry provides 117,000 full time jobs; and music exports contributed £2.1bn in revenue .

So, although many people assume that our economic success depends on commerce alone, this is clearly not  the case. 

Even the Chancellor George Osborne seems to agree – he said recently:

“Britain’s not just brilliant at science. It’s brilliant at culture too. One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport. £1 billion a year in grants adds a quarter of a trillion pounds to our economy – not a bad return. So deep cuts in the small budget of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are a false economy”

- but if this is the case and the Arts truly ARE valued in this way, then it is imperative that this is reflected and strengthened by their high visibility in the Ebacc curriculum. We will cease to be brilliant at these subjects if we do not nurture music and the Arts from the very start of the education system, and keep it high on the agenda right through secondary education.  

In fact, I believe we've already begun to fall behind other European countries, as well as America, Scandinavia, China and the Asian Continent.  In a recent leading international competition - one which has often been able to showcase outstanding young UK musicians in the past - there were no UK entrants of a high enough quality to enter even the competition's initial rounds, let alone get to the Finals and gain any prizes.” This is doubly depressing because it needn't be the case. 

In October of 2013, neuroscientist Thomas Südhof was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his work in explaining the mechanisms of the presynaptic neuron.  
Interestingly, he attributed most of his success to the qualities he learned from his early training in classical music, and the value of disciplined study, or repetitive learning, for creativity. 

Music is a discipline - it requires patience, hard work, flexibility, understanding, teamwork, good communication skills and the ability to maintain concentration and really listen. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all young people of today were able to truly learn these qualities and take them into their future?

I would like to end  with a quote from Sophocles:

Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future. 



Below is a supplementary document:

Some of the benefits of learning music
Tasmin Little OBE


1. Music improves reading and verbal skills

Several studies have found strong links between pitch processing and language processing abilities. Researchers out of Northwestern University found that five skills underlie language acquisition: “phonological awareness, speech-in-noise perception, rhythm perception, auditory working memory and the ability to learn sound patterns.” Through reviewing a series of longitudinal studies, they discovered that each these skills is exercised and strengthened by music lessons. Children randomly assigned to music training alongside reading training performed much better than those who received other forms of non-musical stimulation, such as painting or other visual arts.


2. It improves mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning

Music is deeply mathematical in nature. Mathematical relationships determine intervals in scales, the arrangement of keys and the subdivisions of rhythm. It makes sense then that children who receive high-quality music training also tend to score higher in maths. This is because of the improved abstract spatial-temporal skills young musicians gain. According to a feature written for PBS Education, these skills are vital for solving the multistep problems that occur in “architecture, engineering, maths, art, gaming and especially working with computers.” With these gains, and those in verbal and reading abilities, young musicians can pretty much help themselves succeed in any field they decide to pursue.


3. It helps children get good exam results

In a 2007 study, Christopher Johnson, a professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, found that “elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22% higher in English and 20% higher in maths scores on standardized tests compared to schools with low-quality music programs.” A 2013 study out of Canada found the same. Every year that scores were measured, the mean grades of the students who chose music were higher than those who chose other extracurriculars. While neither of these studies can necessarily prove causality, both do point out a strong correlative connection.


4. It raises IQ

Surprisingly, though music is primarily an emotional art form, music training actually provides bigger gains in academic IQ than emotional IQ. Numerous studies have found that musicians generally boast higher IQs than non-musicians.

5. It helps children learn languages more quickly

Children who start studying music early in life develop stronger linguistic abilities. They develop more complex vocabularies, a more nuanced understanding of grammar and higher verbal IQs. These benefits don’t just impact children’s learning of their first language, but also their ability to learn every language they attempt to learn in the future. The Guardian reports: “Music training plays a key role in the development of a foreign language in its grammar, colloquialisms and vocabulary.” These heightened language acquisition abilities will follow students their whole lives and will aid them when they need to pick up new tongues late in adulthood.5

6. It encourages listening

Musical training makes people far more sensitive listeners, which can help tremendously as people age. Musicians who keep up with their instrument enjoy a much slower decline in “peripheral hearing.” They can avoid what scientists refer to as the “cocktail party problem” in which older people have trouble isolating specific voices (or musical tones) from a noisy background.


7. It will slow the effects of aging

But beyond just auditory processing, musical training can also help delay cognitive decline associated with aging. Some of the most promising research positions music as an effective way to stave off dementia. Studies out of Emory University find that even if musicians stop playing as they age, the neurological restructuring that occurred when they were children helps them perform better on “object-naming, visuospatial memory and rapid mental processing and flexibility” tests than others who never played. The study authors add, though, that musicians had to play for at least 10 years to enjoy these effects. So this adds even more weight to the argument in favour of starting children early and continuing with music lessons during high school.


8. It strengthens people's motor cortex

All musical instruments require high levels of finger dexterity and accuracy. The training works out the motor cortex to an incredible extent, and the benefits can apply to a wide range of non-musical skills. Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 found that children who start learning to play before the age of 7 perform far better on non-musical movement tasks. Exposure at a young age builds connectivity in the corpus callosum, which provides a strong foundation upon which later movement training can build.


9. It improves working memory

Playing music puts a high level of demand on one’s working memory (or short-term memory). And it seems the more one practices their instrument, the stronger their working memory becomes. A 2013 study found that musical practice has a positive association with participants’ working memory capacity, their processing speed and their reasoning abilities. Writing for Psychology Today, William R. Klemm claims that musicians’ memory abilities should spread into all non-musical verbal realms, helping them remember more content from speeches and lectures. Good news if you want a career in politics.

10. It improves long-term memory for visual stimuli

Music training can also affect long-term memory, especially in the visual realm. Scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington reported last year that classically trained musicians who have been playing more than 15 years score higher on pictorial long-term memory tests. This “heightened visual sensitivity” likely comes from parsing complex musical scores.


11. It helps people to manage anxiety

Analyzing brain scans of musicians ages 6 through 18, researchers out of the University of Vermont College of Medicine have found tremendous thickening of the cortex in areas responsible for depression, aggression and attention problems. According to the study’s authors, musical training “accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

12. It enhances self-confidence and self-esteem

Several studies have shown how music can enhance children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. A 2004 study split a sample of 117 fourth graders from a Montreal public school. One group received weekly piano instruction for three years while the control received no formal instructions. Those who played weekly scored significantly higheron self-esteem tests than those who did not. High levels of self-esteem can help childrengrow and develop in a vast number of academic and non-academic realms.


13. It encourages creativity

Creativity is notoriously difficult to measure scientifically. But most sources hold that music training enhances creativity “particularly when the musical activity itself is creative (for instance, improvisation).” According to Education Week, Ana Pinho, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, found that musicians with “longer experience in improvising music had better and more targeted activity in the regions of the brain associated with creativity.” Music training also enhances communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. And studies show musicians perform far better on divergent thinking tests, coming up with greater numbers of novel, unexpected ways to combine new information.


14. It encourages team building and these effects are not only felt by the pupils but by the schools and far in to the wider community.






But most of all: It is musical, and important in its own right as its own subject, its own discipline and its own artistic, intellectual, academic, professional career path.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

AND HERE IS SOMEONE WHOSE BIG BIRTHDAY IT REALLY IS....

HAPPY BIG BIRTHDAY, TASMIN LITTLE!

Tasmin Little: the birthday girl! Photo by Paul Mitchell

A violinist whose musicianship can make you feel glad to be alive. I can think of few whose performances have over 30 years consistently sent me home feeling that things are OK after all: faith renewed, spirit rejuvenated and joy enhanced.

I'll never forget the day we went busking, either. My editor at the Independent asked us to have a go at the Josh Bell trick; Tasmin happened to be in town and was game for it; and we set up under the railway bridge at Waterloo. Every child who walked by wanted to stop and listen to her. We watched with jawbones dislocating as their parents dragged them away from the music - in one case, a little girl of about 4, literally kicking and screaming. The day, according to Tasmin, changed her life: she invented her Naked Violin project and began touring schools, shopping centres, prisons, oil rigs and community centres as well as slightly more conventional venues. Since then her always sterling musicianship has reached even higher levels of compassion, poetry and imaginative range.

Here she is in a favourite filmed moment from a few years back.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Little at Large: why our busking day changed Tasmin's life

Over at Independent Towers there's a certain pride in this piece. A few years back, when Josh Bell did his famous busking-in-the-Washington-CD-subway experiment, the arts ed called me and said how about we ask Tasmin Little to have a try.

We did; she was, by some miracle, in town and free; and I went along with a notebook and a photographer to document the fun. But what came out was a revelation. It resulted in a light-bulb moment for Tasmin that literally changed her life.

As Tasmin approaches her 20th appearance at the Proms - she is playing the Moeran Violin Concerto on 25 July - I asked her to tell all. here's the full story in today's Independent.