Music Matters

The title of this post comes not, as you might imagine from a stirring manifesto, but from a radio programme of the same name. Music Matters, which goes out on Radio 3 at 12:15 on a Saturday, is a magazine programme. Tomorrow’s sole theme is music education. Below is the content of the email newsletter which, if you are involved in education as pupil, parent, teacher, manager or concerned citizen, might encourage you to listen in or catch up on iPlayer. (the emboldening is my own).

We’ve a special edition this week: Music Matters is at MusicLearningLive!2009, the national festival of music education. We put together a panel of key policy makers and thinkers – National Music Participation Director, Dick Hallam, Katherine Zeserson, Director of Learning and Participation at The Sage Gateshead, Christina Coker, Chief Executive of Youth Music, Richard Morrison of The Times, and cellist and educator Zoë Martlew – to debate the present and future of music education, from primary school to conservatoire, in Britain. And there is no better place to chew over the issues than on stage in the theatre of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, with contributions from festival delegates.

There is a lot to discuss: the government’s £332 million settlement for music education, announced at the end of 2007, is being rolled out across the country, and there are schemes and enterprises galore: Wider Opportunities, the Music Manifesto, and most visibly, Sing Up, a £40 million scheme that aims to have every child in primary education involved in singing before 2012. So everything looks good, right? Well, no: there are looming crises in music education, revealed in two recent reports on primary education from the government’s own inspectorate, Ofsted, and in an independent Cambridge review, both published last month. Their conclusions are strikingly similar: teachers are dispirited by having to reach targets and get kids through exams, with the twin behemoths of numeracy and literacy objectives squeezing everything else out of the classroom. The arts and humanities are suffering, and music in particular.

 

And that means children aren’t getting the rounded education they should be, despite the fact that there’s a statutory requirement for schoolchildren to have regular access to music lessons until they’re 14. The irony is that, by marginalising music, schools are missing a trick: there’s overwhelming evidence that children who do receive music education are more likely to do better in Maths and English. There was real evidence of this at the RNCM from Abbott Community Primary School, one of many ‘Singing Schools’ in the Manchester area which use music throughout the curriculum: the kids sang songs about fractions, times tables, parsing words into syllables, even an ironic lyric on SATs, showing how music can help achieve those apparently all-important targets.

 

But that’s not the real point of music in schools. Music is important because it’s music, not just because it can help achieve academic or social outcomes The question is, what happens when children with talent come through the system? How are they supported once they get to secondary school? Is there any hope for a gifted child to progress in music, who isn’t lucky enough to have parents rich enough to afford instruments or expensive private lessons? The panel, with questions from the audience, reveal their hopes and fears for secondary schools and what they think will happen after 2011, when the £332 million has been spent. All that, and we discuss what students can expect as they emerge blinking from the hothouse of a conservatoire education into the harsh world of trying to make it as a professional musician; why teachers need more training in music education, the significance of projects like the Scottish and English versions of Venezuela’s El Sistema, and orchestral outreach work. Also, why western notation matters, even if you can get a GCSE without being able to read music. I’m not saying we come up with the answers, but there’s fuel for more debate, and real passion about why music, er, matters. Enjoy! As always, 12.15 tomorrow.