Don't take the life out of music festivals

15th August 1997 at 01:00
I write to draw your readers' attention to an imminent crisis in music for young people.

Music for Youth is best known for the Schools Proms. Next in its pyramid structure is the National Festival - a week of outstanding and immensely varied music-making on London's South Bank. The base of the pyramid is wide - up to 45 non-competitive regional festivals throughout the country, involving 50, 000 performers. Every kind of ensemble is represented from infant choirs, primary music theatre, through new compositions, chamber music, jazz, folk and World music, to the largest county-wide organisations - orchestras, bands, choirs.

Such has been the success of the event that now about 200 ensembles which deserve a place at the National Festival are denied it. There simply isn't room for them. So Larry Westland, executive director of Music for Youth, plans additional festivals in Manchester and Birmingham. However, these must be at the expense of the regional festivals - the funds don't allow for both.

Regional festivals would be replaced by audio or video-taped "audition" submissions. These would deny nearly 50,000 young musicians the opportunity to perform live to each other, and deny them, in turn, the experience of hearingseeing others' performances and being challenged by them. It would also abandon up to 45 parentteacher teams of volunteer organisers, generate an unwelcome competitive approach - the sole reason for making the recording clearly being to get through to the next round - and remove adjudicators from their present positive teaching role to become reviewerscritics of "canned art".

Wonderful though the summer South Bank events are, the heart of the concept lies in the regional festivals. They are the envy of the world - and they are seriously at risk.

GEORGE PRATT Emeritus professor of music University of Huddersfield

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