Criticism hits the wrong note

12th December 1997 at 00:00
I'm sorry to have dismayed and angered R Barclay (TESS, November 28) with my article on learning to play the fiddle. I suspect I should rest my case at this point but I can't resist pointing out some of the "errors" in hisher article.

I will pass over the rather startling claim that "all styles of music are new to a first-time player". As for "Every teacher knows instinctively when a pupil of high potential comes their way," readers may judge for themselves how reliable such instincts are and what the effects may be on pupils not fortunate enough to benefit from this instructive preferment.

However, the suggestion that the 10 per cent participation rate is "sadly" out of the control of human agency because of the restriction on availability of instruments and instruction time does require examination. While curricular music has moved into the comprehensive era, instrument teaching is often run anachronistically on grammar school lines. Pupils are selected (on dubious criteria), teaching methods are geared to small homogenous groups or single pupils, and the criterion of success is the excellence of an elite minority.

I merely point out that this is a matter of choice rather than fate and wringing one's hands about the sadness of the current lamentable participation rate is avoiding the issue. It is possible to obtain enough instruments for all who wish to play (we've done it) and it is possible to teach in larger heterogenous groups. Participation in instrument playing could be hugely increased if we re-examined the values which underlie the current system.

PETER COPE Senior lecturer in education University of Stirling

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