Let’s Clear and Create Pathways

The lifeblood of our industry is a flow of people learning to make music and continuing to enjoy it.  We get to manufacture and supply beginner instruments and tech to starters of all ages, and to support them with expert advice and high-quality products as they advance.  This helps us to build mutually beneficial relationships and to play our part in keeping music alive.  It’s a win-win situation.

The only snag is the challenges being faced, as recently outlined in the ISM’s ‘Music: A Subject in Peril’ report, which focuses on the squeeze felt by many of those who work to provide high quality experiences both within curriculum time and through extra-curricular activities and tuition.  The basis of the report is a survey, the results of which make for disheartening reading and go some way towards quantifying the general feeling of concern that has surrounded these issues for a long time.

It’s clear from the report that the gap between the end of the old National Plan for Music Education and the introduction of its replacement has not helped the status of music, at a time when funding and general perception of the subject in many schools and academy chains is lower than ever.  There’s that narrative creeping back of music (and other arts subjects) being seen in some quarters as a ‘Mickey Mouse’ option.  The new NPfME is desperately needed, but it also needs to strike the right tone and to be grounded in the reality of what will help teachers to ensure their students can flourish.

The uneven landscape of music education is nothing new; there has always been differences between schools and regions.  I was lucky that my parents could, with sacrifices, support my passion for music with private tuition, but there’s plenty of people who aren’t in that position, and the provision at my schools in the late 80s and early 90s was poor.  Plenty of my contemporaries could have achieved as much or more than me as musicians if only they’d had the opportunity.

My 35-minute weekly music lessons at secondary school (which went through phases of being on a carousel) consisted mostly of copying from ‘Listening to Music’ books and watching Fantasia – hardly a stimulating environment for any of us.  Extra-curricular provision was very limited though at least peripatetic lessons were offered free of charge.  Not very far away were two schools with strong music provision, so it was very much a postcode lottery even then.  At 6th form things were better, buoyed by a fantastic Big Band and charismatic Director of Music, but there was only 5 in our A-level class.

Things have got more difficult, influenced by the societal status of music as mostly providing background to other activities and often existing only as an easily deleted MP3 or FLAC file, or streamed from a platform that doesn’t pay musicians properly for their work.  Pathways into music need to be as diverse as the world we live in, ensuring that traditional and cutting-edge routes sit side by side.

Is there an answer, and where does it lie? 

Is change in the school environment and its myriad pressures the key to providing musical opportunities, or is it time to more firmly accept that this is one part of a much larger and more diverse tapestry? 

Where should we focus our energies as an industry?  We all want people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy music and develop their skills, but what are the best ways to support that?

Several organisations cover the music education curriculum topic very comprehensively and fight the battle for their own members.  The MIA exists to promote the interests of the Musical Instruments industry in the UK and we have in common with our partner organisations a passion for bringing music to life for everyone.  The part we can play is a different one.  It is crucial for the creativity we love and for our businesses that we define what that role is here and now, and the ways in which we can play it effectively with positive outcomes for all.

The MIA Pathways community recognises the multi-faceted nature of musical learning in 21st century, and is concerned with all the various routes people may take into engaging with music as performers, composers, writers, producers, DJs etc.  The work of every MIA member has touchpoints with at least some of these routes and we need to find a common purpose in throwing our collective weight and passion into revitalising music, and into making our stores and brands a central part of a vibrant, accessible and multi-cultural revolution.

We’re already discussing the possibilities both within the MIA Board and Executive Team, and in some conversations I’m having with Fiona Pendreigh (Head of Plymouth Youth Music Service, and a member of the MIA Board) and Ria Bagley (PMT).  It’s an exciting opportunity to help shape the musical futures of so many, but we don’t want this conversation to be a closed shop and we need you on board, representing the full range of MIA members.  We need your thoughts, your diverse experiences, your ideas….

Please, drop me (Matt) an email with anything you can bring to the conversation or conversely anything you would like the MIA to do. Engagement with you, our members, helps us to achieve the best we can, and we and you are in the happy position that this means the best for both the MI industry and musicians, now and in the future.  All we need to do is act.

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