In 1944, the 21-year-old private Bill Millin played the bagpipes during the D-Day landings in Normandy; captured German snipers later said they hadn’t shot him because they thought he’d gone mad. In 1990, a rousing rendition of Flower of Scotland helped inspire Scotland’s rugby team to a famous victory over England. And, every year in Edinburgh, the Hogmanay celebrations would not be complete without an appearance by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Texas or Biffy Clyro.
Music, both home-grown and imported, has always had a special place in Scotland; it is used to inspire soldiers in battle, to lament their deaths, and for our greatest celebrations. This country is a musical one. And so it is of great concern that the number of children taking music tuition in schools has fallen – for the first time on record and by more than 1,000 – after the introduction of fees by some cash-strapped councils.
There are claims this could create a “lost generation” of musicians, while Kenny Christie, who chairs the Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland, warned that never before had the “fear for the future of instrumental music education been so profound”. Councils have clearly been cut to the bone and forced to take extremely difficult decisions about where to make cuts or introduce charges.
But it hardly seems fair that there is now a postcode lottery in relation to music tuition in Scotland, with some councils charging more than £500 a year, while others provide it for free. And it is simple economics that imposing a fee will have the effect of driving down demand. In other words, one effect of ‘austerity’ is that Scotland is becoming a less musical place.
Now, it goes without saying that music doesn’t necessarily require state support. A number of punk bands of the 1970s showed what could be done with enthusiasm, attitude and electric guitars despite a lack of actual musical ability. And many pop and folk music tunes are little more than three chords.
However, a loss of genuine musical expertise from within Scotland is not something that should be countenanced. One ‘lost generation’ will mean fewer teachers for the next, risking a vicious downward spiral.
Music may not be high on the priorities of politicians or ‘hard-working families’, but we’d all miss it if was allowed to atrophy and decline.