Save our musical heritage, say stars

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Welsh performers' lobby snubbed by First Minister, reports Karen Thornton

Top Welsh performers from the worlds of pop and classical music have banded together to lobby ministers to reinstate funding for council music services.

But First Minister Rhodri Morgan has refused to meet the group, which numbers opera star Bryn Terfel and rockers Super Furry Animals among its supporters.

The campaign was given fresh impetus this week when chief inspector Susan Lewis said the Assembly government's music development fund (MDF) had allowed 30,000 more young people to take musical instrument and choral lessons and another 38,000 to participate in workshops and masterclasses since it was set up in 1999.

But in a report from inspection agency Estyn, she warned that a reduction in the funding available, and its transfer to councils' general budgets last year, had resulted in cuts in provision.

Ms Lewis said: "Music services now face an uncertain future. The reduction in funding recently has had an adverse effect on the range of tuition and musical activities. Music services now have to bid competitively for local authority funding every year."

Helena Braithwaite MBE, a former secondary school music teacher, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales's first education officer, wrote to Mr Morgan in March requesting a meeting on behalf of musicians including the former royal harpist Catrin Finch and composer Alun Hoddinott.

She warned that funding for music services had become a lottery, and called for the Assembly government to develop a manifesto for youth music in Wales.

"Our future as a musical nation is under threat because of a chronic lack of national funding," she said. "As musicians who have benefited from excellent opportunities for participation in the past, we cannot stand by as youth music in Wales stagnates and declines."

But Mr Morgan has turned down the request for a meeting, saying the MDF was never intended to provide on-going support to councils' music services.

"It is for local authorities to make their own decisions in the light of their local needs," he said.

But he added that the government would use the Estyn report to highlight the importance of music for young people.

Estyn found the MDF had had a significant impact, with LEAs buying more than 12,500 new musical instruments and employing more specialist teachers.

Some LEAs targeted the most disadvantaged youngsters for extra support, or provided rock and pop instruments or ones from different communities, such as Asian and African drums.

Standards of performance had risen, more pupils gained music qualifications, and GCSE and A-level entries for the subject also rose significantly.

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