Kenny Mathieson reports on a conference that could mark the turning point in setting up a youth music network
Scotland's most famous rock venue, the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, provided the unusual setting for an education conference last week for a range of workers in youth music.
Rock Connections was the opening session of From Nappies to Napster, a two-day conference run by Youth Music UK, in association with the Scottish Arts Council, as part of the Youth Music Initiative in Scotland. (The second day of the conference, held at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, focused on music for the under-5s.) The Barrowland was a suitably grungy location for an event focusing on rock music because it is the kind of place where many young people learning music aspire to perform, Nicola Killean, Youth Music UK's development officer for Scotland, pointed out.
Four young bands from Edinburgh, Perth and Kinross, Shetland and North Lanarkshire were given just that opportunity in a showcase concert immediately after the conference, supported by young DJs from South Lanarkshire.
At the conference itself, another two young musicians, Kat and Anna, described their experience of setting up their band, Hoax, at Grangemouth High. A local out-of-school initiative provided support that was crucial to the rapid progress the band had made, as well as being a valuable life experience.
Over 70 delegates attended Rock Connections, fewer than the projected 150, but they represented a wide range of interests: young people, local authority arts and education departments, and workers in the informal and community sectors.
The aim was to exchange ideas and create networking opportunities. The idea of setting up a formalised national youth music network for Scotland won strong support and the event was seen as the start.
"Maybe we will look back on this as a turning point," said keynote speaker and freelance consultant Dave Price.
Learning opportunities for rock and dance music were eagerly snapped up by young people when offered to them, he said. The formal education sector was perceived to be focused often exclusively on classical music, jazz and traditional music. So rock tended to be sidelined in education or left to the informal sector.
It was important to ask young people what they wanted and then try to provide it, said Mr Price, rather than imposing teaching methods or styles that did not interest them.
The importance of rock music was being more widely recognised, he said, and the music learning taking place in the informal sector was becoming more central to formal education.
His own work with young people had shown him that encouraging their interest in rock and developing their music skills often led them to investigate other forms of music.
Four projects have been undertaken with funding from Youth Music UK, in Kincorth, Stirling, the Shetland Islands and Dumfries and Galloway, and these were featured in workshops, including advice on how to apply for funding, legal aspects of the music industry and songwriting.
Paul Chisholm, of the Oasis Youth Music Project, said it provides out-of-school instrumental tuition for 24 children in Dumfries and Galloway. Its work was welcomed by Alan Cameron, head of instrumental tuition in the authority, who pointed out that 600 children were learning guitar in the authority's schools.
However, funding for the Scottish Executive's requirement that every child receive one year's instrumental tuition by P6 was widely perceived as holding back the rest of the sector.
Several delegates, including Ian Smith, the new music officer at the Scottish Arts Council, hoped that the fulfilment of that target by next year would increase scope for greater diversity in funding opportunities.