Every adult has the responsibility to make #EveryChildAMusician

Oboist and previous winner of the BBC Young Music competition Nicholas Daniel has launched a campaign today, calling for governments in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff to offer every primary school child in the UK the opportunity to play an instrument at no cost to them or their families.

#EveryChildaMusician is supported by Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP.

Catch them early

A letter published has also been published in today’s Observer newspaper, and signed by Nick and other previous BBC Young Musician winners.

Today, we are launching a campaign for every primary school child to be taught to play an instrument, at no cost to them or their families. It is crucial to restore music’s rightful place in children’s lives, not only with all the clear social and educational benefits, but showing them the joy of making and sharing music. We are especially concerned that this should be a universal right. This is an opportunity to show the world that we care about music’s future and its beneficial impact on our children.

Letters: restore music to our children’s lives | Observer | Sunday 13 May 2018

I’ve been aware of the plans for a couple of months. They are plans with one easy-to-understand vision – to introduce music comprehension at the earliest possible age and to do so right across the country at an early age. The implication is fairly simple: catch them early and music appreciation and music-making stands a far better chance of taking root, and being bedded in for life.

Bittersweet thing

On the one hand we have in Nick Daniel a unifying force within the music sector, highlighting the pitiful holes which have been allowed to emerge in the education sector. There are plenty of advocates around, countless more commentators like me who bang our own tambourines, but few who deploy such energy as to try and effect change.

I feel encouraged and excited, by the presence of someone within my sphere of influence who is taking action. I feel a rush of hope that something good will happen to reassert music education in its widest sense alongside other pillars of education.

That’s the sweet bit.

The bitter part is realising the extent to which we need this. When I consider that, I imagine that people like Nick Daniel and many of the other previous winners of the competition must look on the lack of universality of access to music education as something of a barren wasteland at the culmination of a long and arduous developmental journey.

We applaud his and others like him in competitions and on concert platforms, marvelling at their achievement, and applauding their musical achievements. Yet, they must look at what is being left behind for their children’s children and wonder whether the best days have passed us all by. 

Powerful motivation

That’s one of the ways I’ve found BBC Young Musician this time around a difficult thing to get my head around. The competition is celebrating musical achievement and prowess, has striven for greater inclusion, and gone to greater lengths to demonstrate its subject matters relevance in today’s music scene.

At the same we have an education system that is woefully underfunded, and a willful strategy that downgrades music’s importance in the development of the individual, a dramatic reduction in the funding of arts in this country, and a growing air of populism-fuelled derision of the importance of cultural education and appreciation as a whole. We are heralding musical achievement in society at the same time as other parts of our society are seeking to erode the same ecosystem that contributed to that success.

After I read the letter and the press release which went round this morning, I started to reflect on who and when and how I was introduced to a musical instrument in the first place.

My introduction

I don’t remember exactly when it was. Deduction leads me to believe that it must have been proximity to an instrument – an upright piano in the corner of my parents lounge which I probably jabbed at with my fingers, desperately trying to get the attention of my mother in the kitchen. 

One-to-one music lessons came next at the primary school I went to sixteen miles away from home. Grades gave me a goal to work towards. My piano teacher – Frances Secker – provided discipline and accountability. Status anxiety (experienced by my Mum) almost certainly triggered the beginning of those lessons, but a private but unacknowledged sense of ongoing achievement drove me on. Hindsight makes me ponder whether these piano lessons helped me reach educational milestones on a more regular basis than regular classes did at the time. I don’t consider myself a pianist (more a clarinettist), but I recognise its importance in my development.

The problem with my recollections are that in relation to this campaign and those stories written about it, I don’t fit the ideal profile. I went to a local primary school initially (where I don’t recall any music being offered), after which I was moved to a fee-paying primary (where I started to learn the piano). When I moved schools a few years later – another fee-paying school – I received weekly class music lessons (when aural comprehension was regularly tested and the rudiments of music theory were drilled into everyone else who didn’t already understand it), in addition to ongoing one-to-one piano lessons. 

Of course, some might argue that it is because I went to a fee-paying establishment that my story justifies why its necessary that universality of access is so incredibly important to introduce and protect. 

I may be in danger of skating off the point.

Free to All

Introducing one-to-one piano lessons is not specifically what Nick Daniel and Harriet Harman are seeking to campaign for. At least I don’t think so. I think its smaller scale instruments – affordable instruments – and basic comprehension in musical language. And for that to be free to ALL. 

But what really hits home reflecting on my own experience compared with what this campaign seeks to achieve, is the unequivocal memory I have about that first interaction. It wasn’t me who chose to play the instrument that created the connection so much as the person who put the instrument of me (or pushed me towards it) who takes the responsibility for the introduction.

How can five-year-olds know they want to learn a musical instrument until an adult introduces them to the idea of doing so?

It’s us adults that have the immense responsibility to recognise our responsibility in making this happen. If we don’t then we’re all colluding with those who wantonly and ignorantly seek to erode one of the most important, fulfilling and rewarding of human experiences.

The Thoroughly Good Blog is an independent blog celebrating classical music and the arts. Please consider supporting its development in 2018 by giving a donation using this PayPal.

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