Big Noise is great in theory, but there is a big problem
The enriching benefits of learning a musical instrument and the positive impact it can have on the lives of individuals was clearly on display at the Big Concert in the Raploch area of Stirling this week.
There is little doubt that the Big Noise project is playing a central part, through a programme of instrumental education, in transforming the life opportunities of young people. What is being overlooked is that children learning a musical instrument in other schools in Stirling are being left behind, as the Big Noise secures an ever-increasing share of scarce council budget resources.
The argument that Big Noise is an entirely social project is heard regularly. The mechanics of this mean that all instruments, tuition and ensemble training are provided free of charge to these pupils. Children at every other school in Stirling have to pay up to pound;300 per academic year for their lessons. The use of a council-owned instrument is not guaranteed and pupils have to pay for their own secondary ensemble training days.
From April 2012, local residents, through their council tax, began paying for the partial running costs of Big Noise. This will increase to an almost full funding position of pound;600,000 by 2013-14, subject to approval by the newly elected council.
The present situation has brought about a highly divisive atmosphere, as parents are paying for one set of local children to receive a free package of instrumental education - for that is in effect what it is - while having to pay up to hundreds of pounds a year to secure tuition for their own children. How is this a fair and equitable way of treating young people? What consideration, if any, has been given to children receiving instrumental lessons in other schools in Stirling - particularly in areas just as needy as the Raploch?
Big Noise has indicated that it wishes to expand the project to other local authorities in Scotland. Aberdeen, Fife, Dundee and Glasgow councils are, apparently, in advanced talks over the setting up of orchestras in their areas. Elected members and council officials must examine closely any knock-on consequences for children already receiving tuition with a local music service, before agreeing to fund further Big Noise projects. It is the lack of informed and objective analysis that has led to the interests of so many children in Stirling becoming sidelined in this process.
The pioneering work that the Big Noise is doing in the Raploch is important and worthwhile. Stirling Council is right to try to sustain the future viability of the project. However, a much more even-handed and inclusive approach toward children in all of Stirling's communities is urgently required.
Stirling-based music teacher.