Lament for slow fade in youth music

7th November 1997 at 00:00
The Royal Schools of Music have added 'sombre' tones to the debate, reports Diane Spencer

A sombre report on music teaching and playing says that tens of thousands of children have ceased to play over the past three years.

Michael Wearne, chairman of the Federation of Music Services, said the 4 per cent drop - equal to120,000 pupils - would more than fill Wembley Stadium. It was also the equivalent of 1,500 youth orchestras or a dozen large local authority music services.

"This is potentially catastrophic for the future musical health of the country," he said at the launch of the report published by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

As The TES revealed last week, the most significant decline is among the five-to-10 age group - which bodes ill for future generations, as the report also shows that children are unlikely to start playing after the age of 11.

The report, based on 3,000 interviews with children and adults, also found that the proportion of children playing musical instruments had declined from 45 to 41 per cent since 1994; the decline was almost entirely among pupils of semi-skilled parents; the drop was most steep in the Midlands, but all other regions show evidence of a decline except for the North-East and Yorkshire.

Fewer instruments were played, especially minority orchestral ones such as the oboe, horn and cello; there was an 8 per cent drop in the number of children taking music lessons in school, but a 2 per cent increase in those who take private lessons.

Mark Fisher, the arts minister, called the report "sobering". But "It is important not to panic. We are not yet in a crisis," he told a sceptical audience at the Royal Society of Arts headquarters. He added that more research was needed into the effects of devolving school budgets on music services; on the causes of disparities between regions; and on the relative effects of costs of tuition and instruments. Then the Government could find solutions.

But he reassured delegates from the music education services that his department and the Department for Education and Employment were working on a common cultural and education agenda.

Mr Wearne said that music in schools was being pushed out by the Government's preoccupation with numeracy and literacy. "It's not just orchestral balance that's going down the tubes - it is educational balance, consequently each individual's personality balance and ultimately society's."

Research has repeatedly shown that music engenders transferable skills, he said. But the message has not got through to Government, local authorities or even schools themselves.

As money rather than talent was becoming the criterion by which a child gained access to musical tuition, a national framework was needed to deliver local teaching. A start could be made by allowing local education authorities to retain funds for music services under local managment as a holding operation until a long-term solution was agreed, instead of pressing ahead with complete delegation of funding.

Roger Durston, chairman of the Music Education Council, said music education played a decisive role in helping young people to become good citizens and was a powerful antidote to the youth crime and drug culture.

Making Music is available free from: Marketing Department, Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 14 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3JG. Telephone: 0171 467 8279

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