Outcry at threat to limit music tuition to wind and brass

Dame Evelyn Glennie has added her voice to parents campaigning against a local authority's plans to end music lessons for children studying string instruments and percussion.

Violinist Iona Hamilton with her mother, Moray. Picture: Alistair Linford

This week will see the issue come to a head as West Lothian councillors discuss their controversial plans to end free tuition for some instruments while maintaining free lessons for brass, woodwind and bagpipes.

Faced with a chorus of opposition from children, parents and leading musicians – including Glennie, the world famous percussionist, the composer John Rutter and the violinist, Nicola Benedetti – a special council meeting has been convened for Tuesday.

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The “Save Our Strings” campaign was launched to object to the proposal, which was introduced as part of a drive to save £493,000 from a budget of £993,000 for music lessons. The proposal would affect 562 pupils – 189 percussion students and 373 strings students – including violinists, guitarists and cellists. According to the campaign, the move would affect 26.5 per cent of the total number of instrumental students (2,117). It is estimated that the equivalent of ten full-time music staff would be affected by the proposal.

Part of the rationale behind maintaining free brass, woodwind and piping lessons was to recognise West Lothian’s rich mining heritage which produced many prize-winning brass and pipe bands.

But campaigners believe it is unfair to target certain instruments and that means-testing would have been a better way to make savings.

Tuesday’s meeting will see an SNP motion recommending that sort of approach to councillors, but whether it wins enough support remains to be seen. West Lothian is an example of a hung local authority and is made up of 13 SNP members, 12 Labour, seven Conservatives and one independent. Save Our Strings yesterday sent all councillors a briefing paper outlining their objections.

Glennie said: “I am extremely saddened and frustrated by any cuts to any art form. To be a hearing-impaired person and to experience the inclusiveness and integration of participating in music as a youngster was the best medicine I could have asked for. Who has the right to eliminate any subject that makes our youngsters into well balanced and productive members of society?”

Campaigner Siobhan Williams added: “This has been quite upsetting for quite a number of children, many of whom want to study music at Nat 5 and Higher level for which it is essential to be learning an instrument. We are prepared to pay at a level that will allow the less well off to continue for free.”

A West Lothian council spokesman said: “We are considering proposals for a new sustainable model for music tuition in West Lothian within the approved £0.5 million budget. This aims to ensure that instrumental music can be maintained for the largest number of pupils.”