Honorary Fellow Symposium

The Musicians’ Company Honorary Fellow Symposium
LSO St Luke’s, June 2014

Richard Morrison, the 2014 Musicians’ Company Honorary Fellow, chose music education as the theme of his year. In a debate before a large and appreciative audience at LSO St Luke’s, he brought together what was described by the Guardian as a ‘stellar panel’. It comprised Kathryn McDowell, MD of the LSO, Darren Henley of Classic FM, our own Pastmaster Leslie East who was also representing the ABRSM and James Harding of the Purcell School. Richard’s title was: A happy life is a creative life: why every child needs music.

To set the scene, three distinct musical styles were shared with us by the LSO’s community-based junior and senior youth choirs, a Purcell School chamber ensemble and Tomorrow’s Warriors from the Southbank Centre. Here was a very clear message that passion and quality of youth music exists across the entire diversity of background, ethnicity and social opportunity. The manifest enjoyment of the musicians and their ability to engage with the audience underpinned and exemplified the core themes of Richard’s address.

Richard said there was cause for hope for the future of music but that much of what he saw was bad. Good ideas and intentions, such as the Music Hubs, were underfunded and many were unable to deliver on early promise and continuing sustainability. Central funding levels of £82m in 2011 will be reduced to £58m in 2015 with very limited local capacity to take up the difference as a consequence of local authority cuts. Music will no longer be funded from Education Services from next year, and there will be no link to the Department of Culture as an alternative source. Further, academia does not rate music qualifications as serious contributors to higher education entrance.

This is a bleak picture. He believed that the root cause of the malaise in the impoverishment of music lay in its absence as a core component of education. The gap between state and private schools is widening as the costs of one to one tuition becomes prohibitively expensive. And yet, evidence clearly demonstrates that those state schools that commit to art excel. Creative tutoring consistently encourages all round academic excellence. Nevertheless, successive education ministers have held the view that music is an option and do not seem to see the link.

Kathryn McDowell emphasised what orchestras and opera companies have done in the last thirty years to build participation, awareness and audiences for their own community-based programmes. She lamented the lack of consistency in the state approach to music education, describing it as more a sequence of initiatives and schemes with no concern for longevity.

On a more positive note, Leslie reminded us that of the seven million or so children between the ages of 7 and 12 in the UK. Some 70% say they have played a musical instrument, and 20% have had some music lessons. However, although the Wider Opportunities initiative of 2007 has made an impact, it is programmed to fund limited periods of tuition with, once again, no central funding for progression.

Darren Henley, the author of two reports for central government on music education, reminded us of the devolution of power to head teachers. These heads can be bridges or barriers and there was a need to lobby them to pressure for change. There is a National Plan for Music and it should be used proactively. Presently, numeracy, literacy and science form the core focus of educational spend but cultural activities build the culture of learning. He encouraged arts leaders to spend more time with head teachers and to persuade OFSTED to include arts excellence in the definition of outstanding for schools.

From the audience, the composer Robert Saxton praised the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians and urged for funding support to help university foundation years students from less privileged backgrounds ‘catch up’ and participate on an equal footing with private sector students.

In closing, Richard asked the panel for their wish lists:

• Darren Henley wanted to persuade all head teachers that this really matters and to embed music in their curricula
• Kathryn McDowell said every primary school should have a teacher leading musical development and that every child should sing
• James Harding wanted specialist school funding unfrozen to give more underprivileged students access
• Leslie East wanted to convince politicians of the value of music in developing citizenship and to get the funding balance right

The Guardian reported on the passion of the speakers and fabulous live music performances, but lamented the fact there was no state school or government representation. This was possibly unfair. The government declined to participate and the choirs and Tomorrow’s Warriors eloquently represented the state sector. Both groups of young performers made manifest the absolute entitlement of all young people to benefit from music and the truism that talent knows no boundaries.

The challenge for the Musicians’ Company is to sustain and carry the debate forward as effectively as we can.

Court Assistant Christopher Lawrence