This week I have had many conversations with music colleagues from throughout the country about the approach that music education could take to enable it to grow to become part of a national cultural revitalisation. The discussions ranged between: the status of the musician, how to involve more young people, what are the successes (in terms of participation), what methods have other areas used to progress involvement and what are the difficulties that need to be overcome. One of the main ingredients in the whole artistic strategy for the future is coming to terms with a new reality, what has gone before has now gone, been scraped or superseded and a new and untried system is now operational.
One of the interesting debates was about the status of a musician. Should there be a professional body (similar to The Bar Council in the legal profession or the British Medical Association in the health sector) that a student musician should aspire to become a member of? One that has a set of standards that are adhered to by the members and employers could trust when considering engaging the services of a musician. Should there be similar bodies for musical directors, composers, producers, sound engineers, sound designers and any other musical specialisms rather than having unions, societies and associations that have mostly unrestrictive membership criteria and consequently negotiate from a less than professional level? Some of these groups do lobby very effectively and cooperate with others throughout the world with the aim of internationalising standards but others have a singularly national (with preservation) plan that is not always responsive to all members because of the diversity of membership.
There was a consensus of opinion regarding the way that sport has been successful in growing participation and that music (and other arts) should consider how this has developed and the tactics that could be utilised to promote music in a similar fashion. In many ways sport and music expect the same from their contributors: dedication, many hours of practice, muscle development, mental confidence, motivation, the desire to master their specialism, teamwork skills, individual skills… Sport and music have both realised their entertainment appeal and often work together to enhance the audience experience. These connections could be made earlier (at junior levels) to benefit those aspiring to be part of the professional spectacle as well as those that enjoy the recreational aspects.
The Wider Opportunities Programmes in Music at Key Stage 2 that many junior school children benefited from during the past few years in England has generally been seen as a positive educational experience for the majority of the pupils. The identification of specialist talent following these programmes, with the support of further lessons to progress the individual was not well defined and the different approaches in some areas of the country of 1) participation to learn musical knowledge by learning an instrument or 2) participation to learn an instrument, gave unequal experiences between many of the schools. Another of the aims of the programme was to give confidence to non-music specialist teachers so they could carry the ideas forward in future years but this rarely seems to have had much take-up. The growth of school or community choirs in many areas and the resources that companies like Sing-Up produced for non-specialist choir leaders has been very effective as have the technological developments like the plastic trombone or hand drums of many shapes and sizes. Developing affordable and robust instruments that can easily be played and the sound then practiced and refined is ideal to allow more participation. Better asking, “what do you want to do with it?” than telling, “this is how it’s done” to motivate the students to enjoy their music making.
The Music Hubs are the main catalyst for finance and collaboration in the immediate future and Hub leaders need to look at many creative ideas to involve more young people with the prospect of diminishing income for the foreseeable future (one of the main consequences of current government policies in many areas). Membership of the Hubs needs to include representation from the whole Music Industry in a Hub area. This should include venues, manufacturers, retailers, the technology based areas of recording studios, media production companies and software developers as well as arts staff and patrons and not forgetting that children should have a strong voice on the committee, from infant and junior schools to colleges and higher education.
Only by offering a mix of traditional and technology based musical experiences will there be a greater take up by pupils, especially when they can have fun and play whilst learning and developing a number of skills. The evaluations of the recent Wider Opportunities projects cited: increased motivation and self-confidence, raised esteem, pride and achievement, enhanced aspirations, improved behavior, discipline and attendance and a more positive attitude to learning as some of the impacts of the scheme.
Hub members will have to be active in identifying and introducing the individuals and companies needed for all music practitioners to be part of the future of music in a local area, and as a result, keep music evolving and growing nationally. I am part of a few Hubs and I hope all musicians can be involved in the future, for the good of our children.