Performance related pay-off

9th June 2000 at 01:00
Playing together is at the heart of music, says Larry Westland, and time to do it must be found.

As the dread hand of bureaucracy falls ever more heavily on our lives, is it too early to begin mourning the passing of creativity? After all, the arts are supposed to be a messy and disordered business, are they not? Perhaps business is an unfortunate word to use. It sometimes seems as if trouble began the day business and the arts cross-pollinated.

The buzz activity in business is the audit. Now we have monitoring in place of mentoring. Everything has to be measured, weighed and must balance. In the face of these trends, there is a growing need to speak up for the performance aspect of music education.

The four components of the national music curriculum are - unless it has been changed again while I blinked - listening and appraising (cheap and measurable) and performing and composing (costly and open to interpretation).

As I go from school to school, there seems to be little of the former and even less of the latter. "There just is no time," say teachers "what with the literacy and numeracy hours."

There seems to be a general feeling, especially at primary level, that creative education - art, music, drama - is being marginalised again.

It is not just a question of money, there simply is no time at the right time.

There also seems to be a message from above to teachers far below that higher standards of education will lead to greater prosperity. Not so, it would appear. Peter Robinson's excellent Literacy, Numeracy and Economic Performance (Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, 1997) points out that in our end-user society 80 per cent of all jobs require readin skills no better than those achieved by many infant school children. The effect of economic and social disadvantage is seldom raised in political circles when the question of failure at school is discussed.

Over the past 30 years I have come into contact with an estimated 735,000 children and their teachers through my work for Music for Youth. I have seen schools turned from hell-holes to working institutions simply by getting the children involved in music. One teacher in south London brought order out of chaos by starting a jazz band during lunch breaks. In no time at all the school boasted a jazz band, a wind band and a large number of would-be rock and rollers. The most important creative and cultural lesson those children learned was to listen to each other and work together - in harmony.

No amount of lectures, listening to CDs or drawing notes on a piece of paper will ever have the impact and influence of getting up there and playing to an audience.

Go and ask Richard Jones at the Solihull Music Centre what performing means to the children in his neck of the woods.

Disaffected, unruly and out of the mainstream of education, these are children whose lives Richard Jones has turned around with the introduction of out-of-school music lessons and their own rock and pop festival at Birmingham's national exhibition centre. When he first started this scheme, backed by the local authority, 50 children came turned up have a go; now there are 500 involved.

That performance is at the heart of music education seems to get lost when the men who come to measure call round.

Larry Westland is the founder and executive director of Music for Youth.Tel: 020 8870 9624E-mail:

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