The Times: “French horn is blowing its last as pupils reach for the ukulele”


Here, The Times report that one in eight pupils want to learn the ukulele, while the Royal Philharmonic says that the French horn is “endangered”. The article highlights some important issues, such as the difficulty in nurturing children’s interest in music during secondary school, lack of progression routes for them and more…

It is news that might have pleased George Formby if not musical traditionalists: the popularity of the ukulele is on the rise while schoolchildren’s interest in more sophisticated instruments is waning.

Experts have issued a warning about the future composition of orchestras after a survey indicated that several instruments were “endangered”.

The French horn, double bass and trombone were the least popular instruments among pupils, while the ukulele was desired by one in eight.

James Williams, managing director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), said that the music education sector needed to work harder at promoting orchestral instruments. “We are not suggesting that we have to rewrite Beethoven or that we have to rewrite Mahler to incorporate a 70-piece ukulele orchestra,” Mr Williams said. “But the evidence we have here is that instruments such as the French horn and double bass are becoming endangered.”

YouGov research commissioned by the RPO asking schoolchildren which musical instruments they played or wanted to learn indicated that guitars, pianos and keyboards were the most popular. They were followed by drums, the bass guitar and then ukuleles. The leading traditional orchestral instruments were the violin and viola.

The research follows a recent study by Sussex University that found that the number of schools offering A-level music had dropped by 15 per cent in the past two years and music technology by 32 per cent. It also showed a 10 per cent fall in the number of students starting a GCSE music course. Mr Williams said that orchestras should continue their work with schools to “raise awareness and inspire them to want to engage with the wider panoply of instruments”. He added, however, that the breadth of education available was being “squeezed”.

He said that while Britain’s ukulele orchestra was fantastic, there was only one. “If we are training young people to learn ukulele and guitar in schools, what are the progression routes for those playing those instruments into ensembles and orchestras? It is about bringing the culture of arts into schools and placing a value on music.

“We need to do more to get the word out there that there is this huge range of instruments available. The music education sector needs to do more to put in those progression routes for instruments such as the double bass and French horn which we have evidence are the ones that are becoming endangered.”

He added: “The French horn is not part of the brass band tradition, which is an access route for a lot of brass players to learn outside of school, while there is also the cost. A lot of music services simply cannot afford to have 100 double basses to rent out in the way they can have 100 ukuleles.”

The research found that 50 per cent of boys wanted to learn the guitar compared with only 39 per cent of girls. The equivalent figures for drums were 45 per cent and 25 per cent. About 8 per cent of girls wanted to learn the harp and 13 per cent the recorder compared with 1 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively, of boys.

Mr Williams said that there was difficulty in nurturing children’s interest in music during secondary school. Between the age of 10 and 14 the proportion of children saying that they were no longer interested in learning a musical instrument quadrupled from 4 per cent to 16 per cent.