IN MY home village of Pathhead in Midlothian, there used to be a real sense of pride about free music tuition. There was a great heritage of brass bands and music within the community, but now the council has started charging for music tuition, loads of children in my home village can’t afford to get music lessons without some kind of subsidy.
I’ve seen local teachers underwrite the tuition for children because their families can’t afford access to teaching.
There is a perception sometimes that getting music lessons is an elitist thing for middle-class kids that’s not really necessary. That’s just not true.
Access to music is not just about creating a generation of genius future musicians. It’s not just about finding the next Nicola Benedetti, even though it will help that to happen, too.
It’s about giving children a sense that music is something that you can do with your pals and with your family; that it’s an amazing, real, tangible and creative thing that kids can be involved in together. It has all sorts of other spin-off benefits in terms of physical and mental well-being, but the whole idea of being a part of something is immensely important.
When I learned to play an instrument as a child, I learned to commit myself to the idea that music is something that people naturally do together. I took piano lessons at school, and there were amazing teachers within my community who ran music events, and through that I started performing in a local village band.
Today, there’s a tremendous willingness amongst teachers to offer lessons and get children involved – they just need a bit of back-up. We need to get rid of this idea that music is not for everybody. Of all the subjects children are taught in school, there’s a perception that music is the least important. It’s not. It’s hugely important. On the back of the Olympics there has been a lot of discussion about sport for kids but that needs to be matched with a sense of access to musical opportunities as well.
At the moment, I think there’s a sense that the sports agenda is over-riding the arts agenda. Of course money should be invested in sport, but we need a balance in terms of access to music.
There is a notion that music is all about celebrities, that music is about watching people on the telly.
We need to give kids a sense that music is something you don’t have to spectate on, but something you can get involved in. Making music is not an extraneous bonus – it’s a core human activity.
• Karine Polwart is a Scottish singer-songwriter
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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