Reflections on the value of music education

November 16, 2012 — 1 Comment

Schools Proms Royal Albert Hall

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend the Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, organised by Music for Youth and sponsored by a range of organisations including the Times Educational Supplement and the National Union of Teachers.

It was a fantastic night.  Actually, it is quite hard to describe just how good it was.  I didn’t get close up to the Olympics, but I sensed the Schools Proms was a musical equivalent of what was clearly achieved there.  Fantastic standards of performance, a clear emphasis on youth (so frequently maligned, and often by a generation that currently does not look well placed to dispense criticism) and a celebration of absolutely everything great about the diversity of modern Britain. It was stunning.

Prior to the Proms I met up with my daughter who is now a student in London.  If she is successful now, it is in no small part because of the fantastic musical experiences she got as part of her education.  Like many young people, school was a mix of the good and not-so-good for my daughter.  At times it was pretty tough.  An enduring feature of all her time in school were the benefits she got from being part of the Local Authority’s music service – both violin tuition  and participation in orchestras.  I do not think I exaggerate when I say that it was arguably the single most important aspect of her education.

It gave her a ‘skill’ – but of course, it was much more than that.  It gave her confidence, self-esteem, independence, an appreciation of music (she has the most eclectic mix of music on her ipod).  She went on organised tours in Europe, performed in top concert halls, formed an alas, ill-fated band of no-known genre and made great, and enduring, friendships.

She is not studying music now. She never intended to.  She never wanted to be a professional musician.  But what she has will last her through life in lots of different ways.

It would be delusional to argue that this was a ‘normal experience’ for young people.  Kate’s tuition and orchestra tours were expensive and the costs must be prohibitive to very many (most?) families.  Such experiences still remain largely the preserve of the middle class – even when provided by local authorities through schools. This was not ‘music for all’ – but it should be.

That said, as I watched, and was bowled over, by the performers in the Schools Prom I was reminded how important those experiences had been for my own daughter. I was also reminded that the introduction of the Ebacc (despite all the assurances) is likely to push music further and further to the margins of the curriculum (and less likely to be taught by qualified teachers?).  Furthermore, I recalled that the experience my daughter benefited from is now no longer available, but has become victim of local authority cuts.

Campaign against Music Education cuts

Kate challenged those cuts – and I will always remember with great pride how she tried to get a whole symphony orchestra to play in the middle of Leicester on a snowed in Saturday morning in December! (She nearly managed it – see picture) As it happened, ‘grown-ups’ intervened and told her to back-off, not to cause trouble and ‘leave it to them’ – because they knew what they were doing.  Kate fought on, as did many of her friends, but the message to back-off had its impact and many young people stepped back from being involved. It was a shame they did, because the youngsters were right, and the adults were wrong – the cuts came anyway.

Read Kate’s article about the campaign to save Leicestershire Arts here.

These are inevitably clichés, but there can be no price on the value of the types of experiences enjoyed by the performers in the Schools Proms, and if they fall foul of cuts they will take years, if ever, to re-build.  Damage has already been done. It is vital to support those who continue to work to provide great musical education to all young people. Hats off in particular to Music for Youth for a great Schools Prom. Thankyou also to Kate’s music teachers – now, sadly, made redundant.

[I am not sure Kate will ever forgive me for including this link – and I would have to point out that the saxophone was always her ‘dabble’ instrument and she self-taught – this is the only time she ever played it in public – but as a proud dad I agree with the person who commented on the youtube clip that ‘she nailed’ (I assume it is a compliment!) – but I would wouldn’t I?]


One response to Reflections on the value of music education


    Can’t surpass your observations, so ably made. I couldn’t agree more with all that you have written. I am constantly blown away by the sheer expertise of these young people and always come away feeling that the world is a fantastic place because of them.
    What will happen to the development of the finer feelings for artistic expression when wonderful organisations like the GMSS are being forced to make cuts? I fear that the loss generations will have to bear will result in a grey and tedious world.

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