Thursday, 21 May 2015

Two-Part Blog: Music, Education and the Future (Part 1)

In the first of a two-part blog, conductor Tom Hammond ponders the future of music education in this country, and suggests a workable way we can all have a role in its future:

Cuts to music education that began in the 1980's seem to have no end, with state schools especially badly hit. Even in the private sector, the competing demands on children's time with extra-curricular activities plus league-table induced pressure for exam results, means that learning a musical instrument is seen by many as a non-essential luxury item.

Some counties - especially away from metropolitan centres such as London - now struggle to find enough players even to form a youth orchestra. With the austerity agenda of recent years, the arts have been and will remain an easy target when those needing to make cuts come a-calling.

Yet, across the UK, huge numbers of young people still aspire, and apply, to study music in our conservatoires and universities.

National ensembles such as National Youth Orchestra and National Youth Choir continue to produce stunning results. The depth of talent evidenced by competitions such as BBC Young Musician, Proms Young Composer and many more is both encouraging and inspiring. The work of nationally recognised figures such as Nicola Benedetti means we see classical music education being debated in the media; no doubt the homecoming of Sir Simon Rattle will prove a huge boost as he has sufficient clout to get the ear of major politicians.

But will this really be enough to ensure a thriving culture for classical music in twenty or thirty years’ time, despite the amazing hard work done by so many in outreach projects up and down the land?

The demographic realities that mean classical music is undernourished in the state sector mean we are losing not only a whole gene pool of future talent, but our future audience too. If you have not taken part in ensemble music making, learnt how music 'works' with that understanding unlocking a world of delights - are you ever likely to develop a love for it that will lead you into concert halls and opera houses? Hardly.

Then as the funding of the Arts in general, and music especially, increasingly relies on private giving, if you are someone who didn't attend private school followed by a leading university, how will you make the necessary personal contacts needed to attract philanthropists to your project, ensemble or compositions? The cliché that music is the preserve of the upper echelons of society will quickly prove to be true.

I think every musician who cares should give 5% of their time, energy and talent to doing something about this, even if it is just regularly writing to their MP to stress the educational benefits of music. We could all build it into our thinking, maybe even volunteering a morning a week to help children learn to sing in your local primary school.

This is about the long term health - perhaps even survival - of what musicians get out of bed for every day.

Read Part 2 here.

More information on Tom Hammond can be found on his website.

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