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Let the music play;Opinion

The man that hath no music in himself,Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils."(The Merchant of Venice, V:1) Stripped of its Elizabethan language, Shakespeare's message is remarkably modern. The development of a love of music, he suggests, is crucial not only to individual wellbeing, but in fostering a commitment to a shared culture - and even to society itself.

It is therefore worrying to discover (page one) that one in five English primaries - and not a few in Wales and Northern Ireland too - intends to cut back on music due to the Government's decision to suspend the primary curriculum in music, art, PE, history and geography.

Of course, ministers rightly point out that allowing a temporary relaxation in the programmes of study is in response to teachers' complaints. So it is the profession's responsibility, too, to make sure the arts are not downgraded in meeting the literacy and numeracy targets.

Music is an especially precious commodity. Not only does it feed the soul but it develops the intellect - and brings home the bacon too. Britain's music business is now worth pound;2.5 billion a year. Yet as Anne Dudley, a recent Oscar winner for her musical score for The Full Monty, points out (People, page 18) many schools are too hard-up to buy musical instruments, and have less than ever to spend on instrumental lessons.

Only last autumn the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music identified a dramatic slump in the number of children learning to play instruments. It looks as if the recent widespread introduction of charges for instrumental tuition is beginning to hit youth orchestras, with dire implications for adult orchestras.

As our survey also shows, many schools actually increased the time devoted to music once it became a compulsory part of the curriculum. Music campaigners - notably Sir Simon Rattle, who has done much to guarantee music's status in schools - are unlikely to welcome the prospect of this progress being reversed.

Today, The TES begins a campaign to ensure that all primary children receive their entitlement to learn about, and learn to love, music. We want to see each one given the chance to learn an instrument - an opportunity denied to many. Otherwise, there is a danger that too many in the next generation will be excluded from music making. The consequences, for our culture, our society and our economy, would be serious.

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