Composer James MacMillan takes aim at ‘prejudiced’ cuts to music tuition

James MacMillan ''Festival Firsts - Sir James MacMillan 'Classic'� Hansvander Woerd
James MacMillan ''Festival Firsts - Sir James MacMillan 'Classic'� Hansvander Woerd
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Composer Sir James MacMillan has joined the campaign against cuts to musical instrument tuition in Scottish schools, saying that “prejudice” is a major problem.

Sir James, who was composer and conductor for the BBC Philharmonic from 2000 to 2009, claimed that it was “odd” that free instrument lessons were being scrapped, while money could be found for technology such as virtual reality goggles to be provided in schools.

The musician pledged his support for a petition trying to reverse the decision by South Ayrshire Council to charge for instrument lessons. It recently revealed plans to introduce fees from August, meaning many children will no longer be able to afford to learn.

It comes as parents and pupils are fighting plans to scrap tuition for strings and percussion entirely in West Lothian, leaving only woodwind, brass and piping.

Sir James – who was born in Ayrshire – said: “It is odd that money is being found for the strangest things in educational budgets at the same time as catastrophic cuts are taking place in music provision and tuition – virtual reality goggle boxes in East Renfrewshire schools at enormous cost, for example.

“Philistinism and prejudice are the main problems here. We make powerful arguments over and over again that music should be one of the basics, but it’s hard getting through the tough exteriors of some who don’t want to hear.

“In early childhood there seem to be benefits for the development of perceptual skills which affect learning language … Fine motor co-ordination is improved through learning to play an instrument. Music also seems to improve spatial reasoning … which is related to some of the skills required in mathematics.”

He added: “It seems a shame that it will be the poorer children who will miss out on a vital ingredient of their education.”

Parents in South Ayrshire will be asked to pay £200 for their first child’s instrument tuition, £100 for a second child, while subsequent children will not be charged. Some councils across Scotland already charge for tuition, while others remain free.

A spokesman for South Ayrshire Council said: “The charge of £200 per school year – which is lower than the national average – applies to the first child in a family and is reduced or free for additional children.

“We understand that this is a significant change … and would ask anyone with specific queries to contact our Instrumental Music Service.”