I just called to say.music tuition must be protected

26th June 2015 at 01:00
Stevie Wonder's manager defends `fundamental' skills

The man who has guided Stevie Wonder's career for nearly four decades has urged Scotland not to make cuts to music provision as the impact would be "absolutely tragic".

In an interview with TESS, Keith Harris revealed how education propelled the careers of leading figures at the legendary Motown record label, and argued that success in the industry was more dependent on high-quality schooling than ever.

Mr Harris, who has been Wonder's manager since 1978, was disheartened by a recent report from the Instrumental Music Implementation Group, which finds that tuition is under threat in some Scottish authorities as a result of cutbacks.

"One thing that would be absolutely tragic.is if the Scottish music education system sank to the level of the English system - Scotland has always had a much, much stronger music education and culture than England," Mr Harris said after addressing a Glasgow conference organised by Music for Youth and Education Scotland.

Mr Harris admired the fact that music was a "fundamental part of the culture" in Scotland, where the egalitarian approach to teaching music contrasted with England. South of the border, the ability to pay for lessons was a bigger factor and the emphasis was more on classical music, he said.

`Education stimulates curiosity'

The EIS teaching union recently estimated that there could be cuts of almost pound;1.9 million to music services over the coming years, leading to the loss of almost 40 full-time posts and potentially putting more than 3,600 children at risk of missing out on tuition.

"How on earth have we got to a point where children are being starved of what is actually really fundamentally important?" Mr Harris said. "I don't get it - all the research shows that music pays dividends right across the education spectrum."

Mr Harris, a former University of Dundee student who hails from Wigan and lives in Berkshire, said a good educational grounding was vital to succeeding in the music industry, which had become more "scientific" in its approach to nurturing talent. It was now less common to see "the barrow boy done good, where it's all about the hustle", he added.

Education allowed young musicians to assess their options and understand complex legal contracts, for example, but it also helped them artistically, he explained.

"An artist like Bjrk, for instance, has an idea of how things fit together and a curiosity about the world and what music is for and an ability to interpret things in a way which other people will understand - and that requires a reasonable education," Mr Harris said. "Education is fundamentally about stimulating people's curiosity, and educated people know how to scratch that itch: to go further, to delve into it and unravel it."

Mr Harris added that he liked the sound of Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence, especially if it could create an education system that did not prioritise cramming for exams and helped children to appreciate learning for its own sake.

He described how Stevie Wonder and Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label, both held education in high esteem. When Wonder was signed at the age of 11, he was assigned a tutor, and this bespoke approach served him well.

"We talk about education - he values it," Mr Harris said. "He likes educated people. His education actually surprises me. Maybe it's because he had a personal tutor when he was on the road.The breadth of his education is a tribute to his tutors."

Wonder actively "encourages people to get educated and respects people who have done so - he realises just what an opportunity it is, and how you're lost without it".

Mr Harris added: "Berry Gordy also really values education and was a very smart guy, a self-made man gone from car worker to running a multinational company. That requires people who understand the power of education, and he obviously understood it."

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