Music lessons should not become the preserve of the privileged

Teacher Tierce de Picardie has spent a lifetime teaching music but now fears for the future of his subject and believes it is becoming a preserve of the privileged. This is from the Guardian…

Back in 2001, David Blunkett announced that every child in primary school would have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. This led to a wave of schemes – I’m not sure if any of them are satisfactory. It’s taking us a long time to learn the lessons of the Venezuelan El Sistema project of bringing classical music to the poorest children in order to enhance their lives and give them confidence. This has had some excellent results in Scotland, but is still in the regional, experimental stage in England.

Meanwhile, what has been my experience of this ideal, expressed by both the current and previous governments? For one year, every child in a primary school (no such schemes for secondary schools) has had the opportunity to learn an instrument. They had no choice about the instrument – there were either classes full of trumpets or violins. After a year the classes stopped, the funding ended. Pupils were then expected to buy their own instrument and pay for their lessons. The result for me in a secondary school is that there has been no increase in the numbers studying musical instruments, no musical revolution bringing new worlds and confidence to those who would most benefit.

Indeed, there has been a serious decline in these numbers, directly as a result of schools charging for instrumental lessons. Some 10 years ago, I had an orchestra of some 40 to 50 players, with around 15 to 20 new instrumentalists arriving in each year group. Last year, five new instrumentalists arrived and the orchestra is now more like a chamber ensemble of 10 to 15 players. Most local schools no longer have an orchestra at all.

Charges vary locally between £150 and £250 to rent an instrument for a year. Not many families can absorb that kind of cost without some sacrifice. Most can’t even think about even taking on that extra burden and face having to buy an expensive instrument. Schools often reduce these costs for pupils having free school meals but the point remains, to benefit from all that playing a musical instrument can offer, you need to be able to pay for it, yet those who would benefit the most are the least able to pay. Those wishing to take music at GCSE and A-levels but who cannot afford to pay for lessons and instruments are at an immediate disadvantage. We don’t tell students to buy their own scientific equipment or computers.

I’m not just talking here about ensuring that the world’s orchestras have a ready supply of British musicians; it’s about turning people’s lives around, giving them confidence and hope. We’ve just finished putting on a musical. The whole school is buzzing with people inspired by the event. They’ve worked so hard, long beyond the normal school day. They’ve performed in front of hundreds of people on several nights. They are buzzing with excitement and confidence. They know that hard work and commitment leads to a thrilling success. They love coming to school. This will spill over into other subjects and spur them on to much greater achievements…

More at:  Music lessons should not become the preserve of the privileged

'We Must be Ambitious for All Our Young People' says Stephen Twigg
Lloyd Webber brothers: School music is a perfect lesson for ministers
Categories: Policy and Primary.

Let us know what you think...