Local centres could help to end the cats' concerts

17th November 1995 at 00:00
Howard Dove's article (TES, November 3) is a welcome indication of the alarm felt by all competent violinists teaching in the state system.

Under the present scheme the casualty is not the exceptional child or the duffer (both of these will find their level) but the child with a good ear, good co-ordination, intelligence and the urge to excel. Stuffed into a mixed-ability class, he is lucky if he catches the eye of the good teacher. That teacher will very soon suggest individual lessons and that is when money comes into the equation. A minority of parents will pay for lessons but the majority do not, rejecting the proposal as unnecessary, elitist or impossible.

We are still suffering from the legacy of the academies which concentrated solely on performance and were of no help to someone faced with 10 children, 10 violins and the task of fitting them all together.

Schools can often have their eyes opened when a really first-class teacher arrives and wonder how they ever put up with the cats' concert for years before. We need teachers who are competent players, qualified students of an accepted method of teaching such as Sheila Nelson's and whose personality and stamina combine to enthuse and inspire a love of music in children and a wish to succeed.

Before the violin is even brought in the primary school child needs to be taught to read music and to sing. This should continue throughout the learning years. The violin, flute or trumpet teacher should not be expected to teach notation or rhythm as well as the instrument. There just isn't the time. We know that progress is slow and mentally one-sided if the violin is taught in isolation from a whole musical experience. This essential infrastructure is at present left to chance. If there is a teacher on the staff who can do it, then the child comes to the violin with an advantage. Without this, violin teachers face endless repetition, lack of practice and the occasional violin on the right shoulder!

How is all this to be put right? Instead of taking the teacher to the child, which costs a fortune in time and money - not to mention nervous energy - why not take the child to the teacher?

Pupils could attend a local music centre accessible to several schools in that area, with competent teachers and funded, as Mr Dove suggests, under franchise. In after-school hours the centre would provide instrumental tuition, ensemble and orchestral work, theory and aural training. Parties would be taken to hear professional concerts, and pupils would give regular concerts.

There must always be the opportunity for any youngster to have a go at the violin. That must not be lost. Numbers may be slightly less but local centres would provide a genuine opportunity for the talented child, irrespective of financial background, to fulfil his potential.

HANNAH JONES 66 West Street Kingscliffe Northamptonshire

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