We are always delighted to see young people performing on instruments, for example in Christmas accompaniment to carols or nativity plays. There are percussion bands or recorder groups. Some primary schools are even lucky enough to have an orchestra, with wind or stringed instruments. Children and teachers work hard to produce the arrangements and sounds and headteachers are justifiably proud of them.
But it is a struggle. There is no time in the crowded primary day for the children to practise together. The pressures of the literacy and numeracy hours make the mornings almost untouchable and we try to fit in every other subject in the afternoon. Teachers and children give up precious lunchtimes and playtimes to practise small sections, perhaps with large rehearsals after school. The teacher in charge of music probably does not have expertise in all the instruments, and children are taught by our gallant peripatetics. It is all a battle with the timetable.
It takes imagination and enthusiasm and a strong constitution to deliver high musical standards. Instrument teachers visit children for 20 minutes or so, often in groups of three, once a week.
Children are encouraged by the music teacher in school and by their parents at home to practise, and then during the next week they have togive up some playtime. It is no wonder some children fall by the wayside: many adults are not this self-motivated.
Sometimes a rotating timetable throughout the day's lessons can mean that the child is not always sacrificing all their own time. Such timetables can work most efficiently, if all staff are happy with the children going out from lessons - children can need reminding what time they are doing music in any week.
There is such exciting music to play now, including simple arrangements of popular and film music. Many of these are flexible enough for teachers to add any instruments they have to the piano. Much of it now comes with CDs so that players can hear the full arrangement. We all know it is much more fun to play the melody than to have 64 bars of back beats. If everyone can play the melody, enthusiasm is kept alive.
There are websites springing up with music and scores to download. This is a great opportunity to develop ICT use in music education; I am setting up a site with my pupils for this reason. If we share all our arrangements, we can provide exciting opportunities to share music of many styles with people all over the world.
Jay Deeble is a member of the School Music Association and writes here in a personal capacity. E-mail: J.Deeble@wkac.ac.uk