Rather sad news I read recently is that weekly music lessons are to be cut for children aged 11 – 13 from an Essex school because of budget cuts. The headmaster has reviewed music provision after a music teacher left, and has decided not to employ another one and to protect all the other subjects instead.
This is all very well, but what if one or two of the children are musically talented? Not all children are academically minded. I know, because I was one of the students who struggled through Physics, Maths and Chemistry but loved my English, Art, and Music lessons. At primary school I learned to play the violin, and when I left that school and moved onto a Grammar school at age 11, my violin teacher used to arrive once a week at lunchtime to teach me. Music lessons were not considered so important at that Grammar school, and all we did was sing. Nobody was taught to play an instrument except me!
When my parents moved to South East London I had to attend a large comprehensive school. I sang in the choir and the madrigal group, and when I was proficient enough I played first violin in the orchestra. The school put on lavish performances of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘The Gondoliers’, and it was as a schoolgirl that I learned to love Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. I was also introduced to Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ and to this day can still remember many of the songs in their original Latin.
Not all parents can afford expensive after-school music lessons. By the time my eldest son attended a London junior school, funding was being reduced and they had a ‘peripatetic’ music teacher once in a while which the parents were expected to pay towards. Sam and I refused, as Leon was at a state school and we did not have much money at the time.
After a few more years when I had gone back to work we were able to pay for private piano lessons for both boys and for private guitar lessons for Marc, who was turning out rather musically creative. Their school did not teach piano or guitar, but instead all children learned to play the recorder. There was no school orchestra.
Marc grew up and mastered the electric guitar quite wonderfully. All his teenage years were spent in one band or another, and taking his guitar to school and playing it at lunchtimes made him very popular amongst the budding musos. The highlight of his musical career was going on tour with his band as support to a moderately famous Canadian musician and playing large venues, where he learned that a month on the road in a tour bus with 16 other guys is not as glamorous as it sounds. He doesn’t play in a band now, as he prefers to spend time with his wife and two sons. He lived his dream for a while, and he’s thankful for having the opportunity to do so.
So you see, I had a better state school musical education at my comprehensive school than my sons ever did at theirs, who had to rely on private lessons to learn an instrument. I was never as talented a musician as Marc or in fact my mother Dot, who never had any formal musical training at all, yet could play any song on the piano that you wanted. However, I do have a deep love of music that was encouraged at my comprehensive school back in the 1970’s.
All I can say to that headmaster at the Essex school is… shame on you!