Philippa Ibbotson’s recent Guardian article on the teaching of musical instruments in schools somehow passed me by, but it makes interesting reading. According to a survey carried out by insurers Norwich Union, four out of five of us Britishers harbour regrets. The remarkable thing, as Ibbotson points out, is that the top regret (shared by 13% of respondents) is “Not learning to play a musical instrument”:
More than not having paid attention at school, it seems, or not having done the right thing by a relationship, the number one sorrow was a lack of musical ability.
Perhaps, she hopes, this might spur the government – which has done everything in its power to squeeze instrumental tuition out of schools and beyond the reach of most parents – to start taking schools music more seriously. I hope so too – but Gordon Brown’s moves on education so far as PM (even if publications like the Times Higher have broadly welcomed them) should leave those of us in the arts distinctly uneasy. Reading not too hard between the lines, the formula that lies behind Brown education policy so far seems to be: education = industrially valuable skills and knowledge = healthy economy. This is an equation that works reasonably well for technology and the sciences, but – despite evidence that the creative industries are an extremely valuable component of the British economy – not one that works quite as neatly for the hit-and-miss, unpredictable arts. What with this new emphasis on education as training for industry, as well as the Olympics hogging all the cultural budget, expect the situation to get worse, rather than better.
On a more positive note, though, Stephen Maddock, chief executive of the CBSO, responds to Ibbotson’s article with some examples of outreach being made by British orchestras.