Fanfare for the brass tradition

4th September 1998 at 01:00
In your recent report on the state of school instrumental music (TES, July 31), I was dismayed to read Bob Kelley's remark that brass instruments are now "being taught in community bands rather than in schools".

This confirms my own experience of the decline of brass teaching in state schools. In this area, I know of four comprehensives which had five pupils or fewer learning brass at the end of last term. A fifth has not had a brass teacher for several months.

Giving the impression that local bands are filling the gap eases the consciences of politicians, headteachers, governors and heads of music. With a few honourable exceptions, these people are doing little more than shrug their shoulders at the haemorrhaging of Britain's splendid tradition of brass playing.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that local bands are providing a satisfactory substitute for school-based brass teaching. For historical reasons, community bands are spread unevenly, with disproportionate concentrations in places such as West Yorkshire.

Brass tuition in rural areas would almost die out if, lacking the support of schools, it became dependent on community bands.

While I acknowledge the often impressive efforts of the numerous enthusiasts involved with the young in local bands, it is unwise to rely mainly upon amateurs to provide tuition for any instrumental discipline. Also, it is surely unjust that flautists receive school-based professional tuition (and subsidised lessons) while brass players increasingly do not.

I hope that the decline of school brass teaching will be at the top of the agenda of Gavin Henderson and his committee considering the future of school music.

As a practising brass teacher, I suggest that the best approach would be to do more to develop brass in primary schools. If pupils do not begin playing an instrument in primary school, they are unlikely to do so at all.

Perhaps Lottery money and, dare I say it, central government funding, could be invested in providing brass instruments and free lessons for, say, the first year of a child's musical career.

Primary schools could be pressed to place greater emphasis on instrumental tuition, perhaps via the inspection process, or through league tables.

Something must be done quickly, and on a large scale, to ensure that brass playing, an internationally-admired dimension of British culture, is safeguarded.

Dr M J Lomas The Brow Avebury Trusloe Marlborough, Wiltshire

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