Scottish culture ‘put at risk’ by fees for music lessons, industry warns

Campaigners are concerned the music scene may be dominated by the affluent.
Campaigners are concerned the music scene may be dominated by the affluent.
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Scotland’s cultural identity is being put at risk by cuts to music education in schools, industry leaders have warned.

The country faces having a music scene dominated by people from privileged backgrounds unless action is taken to halt the rising tide of tuition fees.

The Scottish Music Industry Association (SMIA) has warned of a “critical” situation across the country due to the widespread scrapping of free lessons.

Chairman Dougal Perman, an official advisor to the Scottish Government, said the introduction of fees was turning music into “a luxury that many people can’t afford”.

He has raised the prospect of the contenders for the Scottish Album of the Year Award, which the SMIA organises, being dominated by “an affluent demographic unless the current crisis is addressed”.

Mr Perman said the issue was one of the most serious threatening the viability of the Scottish music scene, along with the growing problems music venues are facing from property developers, licensing red tape and noise complaints from neighbours.

He raised concerns over the damage being done to music education at a creative industries conference in Edinburgh.

Mr Perman said: “We need to explore the impact of the decline in access to music education in Scotland. It becomes a real issue of equality and inclusivity when tuition is no longer free. Even introducing a modest free creates a barrier for many people. That’s become very real in Scotland in the last few years. Even if it stays how it is now, let alone gets any worse, we’ll be in a very difficult and dangerous position regarding our cultural identity.”

The Scottish Parliament was told in September that hundreds of parents have been handing back musical instruments due to the introduction of unaffordable fees. Some local authorities are now charging more than £500 for lessons, despite fierce opposition from teaching unions.

Mr Perman said: “The situation with music education is becoming critical. Free-at-the-point-of-access instrumental music tuition in schools is now scarce in Scotland, if it’s available anywhere at all. While there does seem to have been valiant attempts by some local authorities to subsidise provision where possible, charging for teaching makes music a luxury that many people can’t afford.

“The effects are already being felt by music teachers, who have less work. Many of them are performing musicians in orchestras, ensembles and bands for whom music tuition is an essential source of additional income.

“With less music students coming through schools, orchestras and music groups have a smaller talent pool to draw from. This will ripple through the entire music industry eco-system over the next five to ten years.

“I don’t think music talent in Scotland will dry up, but we’re concerned that the artists who make the records that make the Scottish Album of the Year Award long list in 20 years’ time may all come from an affluent demographic.

“Music education is a real concern if we’re to ensure to continue to have an abundance of creative talent in Scotland. Without that, we will lack our most valuable industry resource. Talent is the liquidity that flows through the creative economy.”