The Queen’s composer calls for end to music fees

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies interrupted his treatment for leukaemia to enter the debate. Picture: Getty

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies interrupted his treatment for leukaemia to enter the debate. Picture: Getty

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THE Queen’s composer has blasted councils which charge children to learn to play musical instruments as “shameless”.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – hailed as the world’s greatest living classical composer – is so outraged over the fees ­imposed by some local authorities that he broke off from the final stages of his cancer treatment to appeal for the scrapping of all such charges.

Local authorities in Scotland have been urged to review charging policies for instrumental music tuition to ensure children who want to learn an instrument do not miss out.

The move is part of a wide-ranging report on instrumental music produced last month by a Scottish Government group in response to Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign, which has been pressing for tuition fees for instrumental music tuition in schools to be scrapped.

Children across Scotland are charged between £95 and £340 to learn a musical instrument in school, which campaigners claim is preventing some from exploring their musical talents.

Maxwell Davies, the Master of the Queen’s Music who lives on the Orcadian island of Sanday and is currently undergoing treatment for leukaemia, said: “If there is one thing I believe passionately about it is that children should have free access to learning an instrument. I am furious that some councils think it is perfectly acceptable to charge for instrument tuition. It is not. They are shameless and are unnecessarily limiting the life chances of those who can least afford it.

“It goes against the very ethos of widening music across all social classes. The danger is that music becomes the preserve of the better off – the parents who can afford to pay – while talented children from poorer families miss out. When it is a choice for some people between food and other necessities and music fees you can understand their decision.

“But this is not even about meeting the needs of just the musically gifted. Instrument tuition should be made available freely to all. Music helps children express themselves and communicate.”

Maxwell Davies added: “Some councils should hang their heads in shame over charging for instruments.

“It is always the arts that are the easy target in any budget cutback.

“But many councillors simply do not have a full grasp and understanding of how the arts enrich the lives of people.

“I want to applaud and congratulate Scotland on Sunday for mounting this campaign. It should be supported widely – and I hope that it forces more local authorities and their parliamentary funders to think again over the damage they are causing and the lives they are frustrating and limiting in the process.”

The government report, which calls for a “national vision statement” for instrumental music tuition, recommends that councils “review their charging policies and concessionary schemes to ensure that pupils in their area are not prevented from learning a musical instrument”.

It states that there “should be a general principle that pupils’ individual circumstances should not be a barrier to their ability to access and benefit from instrumental music ­tuition”.

It could mean that some councils will come under pressure to scrap fees altogether.

The Scotland on Sunday campaign played a part in bringing an end to tuition fees for children sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)music exams, which five local authorities had also been implementing.

A national conference on music education, which will be held in September, and an instrumental music implementation group is planned by the Scottish Government to oversee the recommendations.

The group will report back to learning minister Alasdair ­Allan by the end of next year.

The group was set up last December in response to Scotland on Sunday’s campaign and charged with “getting a grip” on instrumental music tuition by education minister Mike Russell.

The government also announced the creation of a £1 million instrument fund for schools. Last year, 24 councils out of 32 across Scotland charged between £95 and £340 for tuition, while five charged children sitting SQA exams.

Following the launch of the Scotland on Sunday campaign, two councils – Dumfries and Galloway and Dundee City – have scrapped all charges, while Midlothian and Dumfries and Galloway got rid of SQA music fees.

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