Cost of living crisis: Government must not allow music to be sacrificed as soaring bills push lessons out of reach for many – Linda Boyd

There isn’t a person in Scotland who would reasonably argue that music lessons are more important than feeding a family or heating a home.

In fact, it’s choosing between those things which have led a huge number of our students, and their parents, to cease learning a musical instrument amid the developing cost-of-living crisis.

And it’s not exclusive to Edinburgh. We’ve spoken to other music schools and teachers across the UK who are experiencing the same thing.

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The decision facing these people is a devastating one, but also straightforward when you balance the basic priorities of life.

But just because some things are extremely important, it doesn’t mean things that are quite important should be brushed aside.

By allowing budding musicians to abandon their hobby now, we risk costing society and the economy in future.

Many students, particularly younger ones or families who are funding their children through the process, were already at full-stretch before the latest blow to household finances.

It is inevitably those from the lower income brackets who have proved most likely to drop music tuition but, as the crisis continues, the pattern will extend up the chain.

Learning to play a musical instrument can have a transformative effect on people's lives (Picture: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

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Any business which has survived through the credit crunch, the recession and then the pandemic will be hardy enough to face this one down too.

But it’s those people who benefit so much from learning a musical instrument who are falling off the horse and will never get back on again.

Perhaps on first look some may think this all doesn’t matter too much, in the grand scheme of things.

Try telling that to the many people whose lives revolve around their musical instrument, for whom music has opened up so many opportunities, and without which their life would be considerably empty.

If people are abandoning music tuition now in their droves, that means in future years there will be fewer professional and talented amateur musicians for the general public to enjoy.

Less chance of live music in a pub, fewer members of the local orchestra and – at the top end – a dearth of talent to produce the world-class music, of all types, that Scotland and the wider UK is known for.

Even things we take for granted like the ready availability of wedding bands could be affected.

And for the arts and entertainment industry more generally, if people are cutting back on “luxuries” like music lessons, it won’t be long before other habits fall too.

As the punishing financial environment hits home, people will find it harder to get the cash to go to the theatre, to live gigs and perhaps even the local panto at Christmas.

It’s no wonder the arts and creative industries are biting their nails, having just endured the most extraordinarily bad two years through the Covid pandemic.

Aside from easing the cost-of-living crisis more generally, there are other measures governments of all sizes could do.

Scotland’s local authorities could push harder on providing even more free music tuition in schools, boosting the options available, and the Scottish Government should go further to set up long-term funding mechanisms and guarantees to ensure that they do.

Those employed in the arts have barely forgiven the UK Government for its ridiculous assertion that people who devoted their lives to learning their craft should give it all up and become IT support workers.

A good show of repentance could be exhibited by using some of the ‘Levelling Up’ money it has set aside to ensure children from more deprived areas have the same access to musical instruments as their more privileged contemporaries.

It’s so vitally important that we, as a society, do not let second-tier priorities be sacrificed as energy bills soar and other household items surge in price.

Learning music for a child isn’t just something nice to do. Studies have repeatedly shown that a young person pursuing an interest in a musical instrument is then able to apply themselves better in other subjects too.

Not every child picking up the piano will go on to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. But the discipline they learn from it may just open the door to a number of other lucrative and rewarding career opportunities.

For our older students, many of whom took up an instrument having retired and finding themselves with more spare time, the difference it has made to their life is notable.

They talk of feeling fitter, psychologically healthier and utterly enthused at having the prospect of a new activity to pursue. It is a gateway to new friends, new ideas and a new way of living.

It makes an impact socially too – how many pop band members over the generations have said, had it not been for rehearsing and performing, they would almost certainly have been out and about participating in something altogether less glamorous?

Even those of us whose life is devoted to music can understand its place amid this cost-of-living crisis.

However, we also hear the heartbreak in the voices of those who are having to turn their back on something they loved.

We can see the pain in the faces of the parents who feel they are being forced to remove a window of opportunity from their child’s future.

This is being replicated in all parts of the UK, and across all kinds of activities, from swimming lessons to dance classes.

Parents who grew up believing they’d be able to provide more opportunities for their own kids than they themselves had are beginning to realise this almost certainly won’t be the case.

Music has the power to transform lives and present opportunities for those who would struggle to get them otherwise. It’s a calling – the only thing some people want to do with their lives.

It’s up to those navigating the country through this difficult period to find a solution beyond the basics. Budding musicians across Scotland cannot afford for this plea to fall on deaf ears.

Linda Boyd is director of Morningside School of Music

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