Anyone with doubts about the tranformative power of music could not have have come across the work of the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra or the South African Soweto Youth Orchestra. It is enough to listen and watch a little of the music made by young people, many of whom come from deprived backgrounds to see that this could not happen without serious personal engagement on the part of the young musicians.
Music is all around us but the ubiquity of music has its downside. Often it is used and even created for purely commercial reasons. Powerful commercial interests in the music business, advertising and venues regulate a great deal of the music that is made, although fortunately this commercial domination has its limits – I can enjoy some pretty good music-making in my local pub which is relatively free of such influence.
The educational potential of music is vast, both for its own sake and for the sake of the social interaction and life-skills that come with music making. Learning to appreciate the different dimensions of music (scales, rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre) and putting this understanding into practice by making music introduces young people to the joy of working closely with others along with the importance of self and collective discipline.
With this in mind it is great to hear about the development of young musicianship, which includes some of the most deprived children, through the Geordie Symphony School. We don’t have to go to South Africa or Venezuala to find children being transformed by giving them access to music creation.
It is in this context that it is worth drawing attention to an aspect of agreed Labour Party policy that has so far, as far as I know, received no comment. The NPF Annual Report to Conference 2014 which is the agreed basis for Labour policy for the next election said something rather surprising about music education:
Labour also believes that all children should have access to high quality music education and that there should not be a postcode lottery in musical opportunities for young people.
Let’s repeat that: “All children should have access to high quality music education”. What can that mean if it does not mean providing the teachers, the instruments, the time and the organisation to get as many children as possible making music and playing together?
We must hope that this clear commitment was made while understanding that it would be something of a revolution in terms of commitment to music. Will this policy make it to the manifesto? Does Labour take this aspect of its policy seriously?
Music education has suffered under the Grandgind educational philosophy that promotes a narrowly conceived curriculum which squeezes music into second class status. It would be great to see that Labour understands what is in its own policy commitments and that “high quality music education” will be something it really intends to deliver to all children.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Left Futures.