Bring down the philistine walls

24th November 2000 at 00:00
AS a beleaguered teacher of brass instruments, I must compliment you for the coverage of the crisis in instrumental music. Such reporting is a welcome corrective to the ignorance and apathy of the public, politicians and so called educationists on this issue.

However, three important points need to be made. These are:

1) State-school instrumental teaching is not solely in the hands of local authority music services and their successors. Many children are now taught by private teachers employed directly by the schools. Almost all of the allegedly new funding for instrumental music (such as the Standards Fund grants) is aimed at music services; therefore, a substantial proportion of instrumental teaching is deriving no benefit whatsoever from such initiatives.

2) The pernicious preoccupation with exams and league tables does not just affect allocation of resources. Instrumental teachers complain that lunch-time and evening rehearsals and lessons now have to compete with extra sessions in academic subjects to improve schools' league-table performances. Some of the more benighted schools efuse to allow pupils to miss lessons in order to learn an instrument.

Also, I have come across several instances of West Country heads describing instrumental music as a "frill", or something similar, in the local press. This marginalisation sends out a powerful, insidious and, I hope, unintended message to children that schools consider practical musical achievement to be of little value.

3) The instrumental teaching which does exist is unbalanced. Most areas have huge numbers of high woodwind - especially flutes and clarinets - while there is a shortage of other instruments such as French horns, trombones and tubas. This situation is unsatisfactory; many young flautists and clarinetists will struggle to find musical openings later in life, while some major areas of British culture, such as the brass band movement, are in deadly danger.

Any further reforms of instrumental teaching need to take account of these issues. However, given the persistence of philistine attitudes to music, I am not holding my breath.

Dr MJ Lomas

The Brow

Avebury Truslow, Wiltshire

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