Open Letter

We are writing to express our deep concern in response to reports that Midlothian council intend to reduce drastically the provision of musical instrumental tuition for school children.  

We are dismayed by the dismantling of educational and social provision that should rightly serve all children in Scotland, shaping the opportunities available to them through their lives.

In this open letter we identify well-documented individual, social, cultural and economic benefits of investment in music tuition as part of general education. The core values and returns of practical music tuition go far beyond any single musical repertoire, subject area, discipline or attainment target.

We recognize the hard choices faced by Midlothian council, but we must highlight the far-reaching implications of such a decision:

  • Cut instrumental tuition in children’s formative years and we remove the joy, reward, and motivation from music education – and also Scotland’s future music-makers
  • Classroom-only music education would likely become unsustainable for many schools in a short time
  • The work of instrumental teachers with school-age Scottish children doesn’t merely supplement music education: enriching instrumental and vocal tuition is key to Scotland’s musical future
  • Scottish Government’s statements of support and current YMI commitment to music and the creative arts in education are not enough to protect the musical future of any but the most privileged of children
  • The negative outcomes of similar music education provision cut-backs in England are becoming apparent; it is urgent now to protect against similar effects for Scotland

If we do not invest in the next generation of Scottish musicians, we will be poorer in every possible sense of the word.  [Scroll down for letter in full.]


Signatories

Reid School of Music, The University of Edinburgh Dr Nikki Moran, Dr Tom Mudd, Dr Elaine Kelly, Dr Anne Desler, Yati Durant, Dr Annette Davison, Prof. Peter Nelson, Prof. Raymond MacDonald, Dr Martin Parker, Dr Michael Newton, Dr Thomas Butler, Prof. Dorothy Miell (Head of College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences), Tom Wilkinson, Dr James Cook, Dr Morag Grant, Dr Katie Overy, Dr Gareth Williams, Dee Isaacs, Roderick Buchanon-Dunlop

Music, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow Prof. Björn Heile, Dr Matt Brennan, Prof. Bill Sweeney, Dr Louise Harris

Division of Occupational Therapy and Arts Therapies, Queen Margaret University Emma MacLean, Prof. Brendan McCormack, Dr Philippa Derrington, Dr Giorgos Tsiris, Clare Gillespie

School of Arts and Creative Industries, Napier University Zoë Irvine

Music, University of Aberdeen Prof. Pete Stollery, Pauline Black


Beyond individual academic benefits from musical and instrumental training (http://legacy.laphil.com/sites/default/files/media/pdfs/shared/education/yola/susan-hallam-music-development_research.pdf), significant benefits of music education include the rich social and cultural life created through musical ensembles and performance opportunities.  These are of huge importance and value, not only in the lives of the individuals who perform and play, but for the live music events and concerts that enrich our wider society. Youth music ensembles rely heavily on the work of instrumental tutors.

The social, cultural and health benefits of quality music education for school-age children are now widely recognized. Westminster has recognised the damage wrought by exclusion of creative arts from the EBacc – a recent cross-party report now seeks to mitigate and reverse the negative impact on English schools’ commitment to music teaching (https://schoolsweek.co.uk/quality-of-music-education-should-affect-a-schools-ofsted-rating-says-report/).  

Individuals who can take part in group music-making – in all and any ensembles, choirs, bands and orchestras – have access to rewarding, absorbing, skill-enhancing and mobilising opportunities and experiences over their life-time, because musical participation actively creates communities, generating shared, social experiences and collective knowledge: Scottish music education feeds and sustains Scottish, British, European, international culture and society.

Classroom-only music education as the prospect for the majority would not provide sufficient experience or continuity of training to nurture lifelong musical opportunities. The work of instrumental teachers with school-age Scottish children doesn’t only supplement music education: enriching instrumental and vocal tuition is key to Scotland’s musical future (https://www.eis.org.uk/Content/images/IMT/EIS%20Music%20Charter%202018.pdf).

The experience of making and playing with sounds is central to our motivation, comprehension and acquisition of musical knowledge.  Could you learn to drive a car by sitting in a classroom and sharing your teacher with 30 other people? Can you imagine going out and sharing the roads with other drivers who learned that way?

Learning about music means learning to participate skillfully with other people. The core values and returns of practical music tuition go far beyond any single musical repertoire or genre – the benefits extend right out of Music’s subject area. Instrumental tuition brings abundant ‘extras’ – communication, presentation, analytical and interpretative skills, attention to detail, self-assessment and self-discipline, co-operation, etc.

Music education requires quality and continuity in practical tuition. Take tuition away in children’s formative years and we remove the joy, reward, and motivation from music education – and also our future music-makers.  

In a short time, classroom-only music education seems likely to become unsustainable for the many schools who have limited resources to attract and retain appropriately-skilled staff, since the ability to deliver music teaching in the classroom relies on practical musicianship skills – which the majority of prospective school teachers will not possess.

We appreciate the Scottish Government’s statements which have lately voiced strong support for music and the creative arts in education (https://www.tes.com/news/cuts-must-not-stop-poor-pupils-learning-musical-instruments-warns-sturgeon).  The commitment in place to give children access to one year’s instrumental tuition before they leave primary (via Youth Music Initiative, through Creative Scotland) is not enough, however, to protect the musical future of any but the most privileged of children.  While the remainder of Youth Music Initiative provision is indeed targeted for those that would not normally have the chance to participate, the scope and scale of YMI is designed to fill gaps and create additional opportunities. It is not core provision. https://www.creativescotland.com/funding/latest-information/funded-organisations/regular-funding-2018-21/overviews/music.

Speaking as academic Music staff members at various Scottish Universities, we want to continue to build on our strengths of excellence in teaching and research, generating cultural wealth and maintaining international esteem. We want to continue to do this with and for Scottish communities, and we are committed to working with and for an increasingly diverse student population – representing Scotland’s future society. Indeed, in our daily working lives, many of us are striving to improve equality of opportunity through our curricula: we want every child in Scotland to have the opportunity to learn music, not only those from relatively advantaged backgrounds. The negative outcomes of similar music education provision cut-backs in England are becoming apparent (https://schoolsweek.co.uk/music-hub-inconsistencies-reveal-funding-postcode-lottery/); it is urgent now to protect against similar effects for Scotland.

Our final word is on the vital role that music plays in Scotland’s present and future economy. The current and next generation of Scottish musicians are a fundamental part of Scotland’s creative industries, which comprise over 15,000 businesses employing more 70,000 people. The Scottish Government estimates that Scotland’s creative industries contribute more than £5 billion to the Scottish economy every year, and Scotland’s international reputation for the vibrancy of its musical culture drives millions of tourists to the region every year. This is based in no small part on past investment in music tuition (https://www.gov.scot/policies/creative-industries/).

Access to music is an indicator of the extent to which we as a nation respect and nurture culture’s transformative power across society. If we do not invest in the next generation of Scottish musicians, we will be poorer in every possible sense of the word.

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