Tuesday, 18 September 2012

It's A Wonderful World

It's a wonderful world - the world of music that is.

Last week the Burd wrote a post in support of the Scotland on Sunday's campaign for the introduction of free musical tuition for all in schools.  I wholehearted agree with this suggestion, but found the Burd's criticisms of her own local authority's (Edinburgh) provision quite interesting.

It would appear she is unhappy because Edinburgh council offer tuition only on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings and the tutorials are centralised in various schools.  Her child, who has an interest in both sport and music, doesn't want to give up his Saturday morning sport to attend music lessons and the hub schools are not within walking distance of her son's school - therefore he can't attend on Friday afternoons because no one is available to transport him there.

I have a problem with that.  What's wrong with public transport?

At the age of around eight I was fortunate enough to be provided, by a far seeing Dundee council, free cello lessons.  As I came from a musical family I had decided very early in life that the violin wasn't for me and neither was a woodwind instrument (too much competition because my brother was by then an accomplished clarinetist courtesy of the same free system).

A cello isn't a very portable instrument, but we had two rather battered specimens in school and four of us fought over them each Monday morning when the school orchestra played at assembly.  My lessons took place (after school) in a council building nearly a mile from Dundee's central bus depot and because I couldn't be guaranteed a cello on site, I regularly had to lug one of the school instruments on the bus to town then the marathon walk to Bell Street.  It was awkward for a wee girl but I was determined to learn it against my mother's wishes and my teacher was the best in Dundee. (He actually lived in the next close to me and would have given me private lessons, but because my parents were already - at my mother's insistence - paying for piano lessons, private cello lessons were a no no.)  Schools did not provide free piano lessons then and I don't know if they do now but I doubt it.

I don't think children from homes where parents have no personal transport would be disadvantaged. These parents would be public transport users and have taught their children how to use it.

The disadvantage comes from parents who think music 'isn't for us'. This culture still prevails and it's sad that the message of the many excellent music teachers I'm met throughout my life isn't getting through to a large proportion of our society.

As the Burd mention, if this hurdle is overcome, as in the Raploch example, the child's world expands greatly - just as it would with sport.

To provide individual musical tuition in every school isn't feasible.  In an orchestra there are at least 20 instruments and if the likes of guitar, harp, keyboard, accordion etc are included the cost of providing instruments to every school would be prohibitive.  Schools do their best to encourage children to learn orchestral instruments so as they can learn the enjoyment of being a 'team player'.

Therefore I have no problem with lessons being provided at selected schools.

What I would like to see is Creative Scotland being involved in this free provision.  Too often a child is told they will learn, say, the violin and they give it up within weeks because they don't like it for whatever reason.  If somehow Creative Scotland could get together with music teachers and introduce all children to a few orchestral performances, when they could hear and see the various instruments, then the choice of instrument would be the child's and not the teacher's and the child's interest is far more important for the learning process.

Unfortunately there are few television programmes showing classical music for our youngest generation, but plenty showing sport. Somehow we have to show all children that mastering an instrument is well within their capabilities.

As for the Burd's problem, I suggested that she buy the family a keyboard and see what happens. Nowadays good keyboards can be purchased for around £100 and be great fun for the musically inclined and even the tone deaf because we all have the ability within us to appreciate specific forms of music.  Waiting for state education to provide anything for a child a lottery and it's up to parents, working together with teachers, to ensure the best possible opportunities are available.

The fact that some Scottish councils are charging parents for musical tuition is a disgrace and I strongly condemn the practice.

As for children having to decide between sport or music lessons on a Saturday morning I really can't sympathise. Life consists of making constant choices and the sooner children learn that skill the better.

In my experience instrumental teachers work very long hours to gain a living and most, if they discover a very talented child, will spend a great deal of unpaid time developing their ability. For most music teachers music is their reason d'etre and not money.  Music is their world and a wonderful world too.


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