The Guardian view on musical education: it needs social harmony


Here’s an important article from The Guardian which discusses music education, how it enriches lives and whether music is being dominated by the wealthy elite…  

“Birmingham’s renaissance sees a new conservatoire. That is good news. But we need policies to ensure music is not dominated by a wealthy elite.

The new Birmingham Conservatoire is in many ways a reminder of the Brummie resurgence. England’s second city centre was not long ago written off as an urban doughnut – a tiny commercial core cut off from its natural space by ring roads and a belt of derelict Victorian properties. However, in recent years it has been revitalised with a futuristic train station, swanky new library and an impressive new civic centre, called, in a statement of intent, Paradise. So sure of its reclaimed place as the heart of the nation, that £57m has been spent on a new conservatoire. Such a stage will be welcomed by Birmingham’s orchestra, one of the best in Europe. The worry is not about the future of the city, which bursts with elan, but where future musicians will come from.

Worryingly, music education in the UK seems in decline. This is partly down to the English baccalaureate, introduced in 2010 to boost the number of students studying science and languages. With the focus on purer academic subjects, the number taking GCSE music dropped by around 9%. Now a third of secondary schools have just one music teacher, up from 22% five years ago. Researchers warn that music in secondary schools “faces extinction”. There is a fundamental question about how music – pop, jazz or classical – enriches people’s lives. Medical science can make us live to 90. If you don’t have music to enjoy, one may ask what’s the point of living until 90?

It’s becoming a real question for the have-nots. Music is taught in the majority of schools around the country, but it is skewed towards the rich. Those wishing to study classical music, a grounding that can lead to rock and pop, must often pay for private tuition and own their own instrument, which cuts out those who cannot afford it. Despite outreach efforts 49% of members of the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain are from private schools. In 2015 the music industry contributed £4.1bn to the country’s economy, but the country has not returned the favour.

There are hidden costs of a fading music education, too. Studies suggest that music can help those with dyslexia, and reduce anxiety and depression. It can also help children learn other subjects better. Music must not become the preserve of the privileged. Britain has a long history of training great musicians from poor backgrounds (the Italian composer Luciano Berio once said the thing he most admired about the UK was the way it nurtured young musicians). Exclude state school pupils, and future musicians will be drawn from the top. Britain would be poorer for it.”