Dame Evelyn Glennie: ‘It isn’t just about learning, it’s about a form of expression’

AT PRIMARY school I asked if I could have clarinet lessons. I went to a tiny two-teacher country school north of Aberdeen and the lessons didn’t happen at my school but at another one nearby.

The school arranged for me to be transported, free of charge, for free lessons for one hour a week. It wasn’t a case of, “well, we don’t do that here so you’re not going to get it”. When I went to secondary school at Ellon Academy, every pupil was introduced to the school orchestra during assembly. That was a huge turning point for me – to see a group of youngsters playing together whom I could relate to and be inspired by. It was at that particular event that I had a look around and thought “actually, percussion seems quite interesting”. I asked to have lessons and they were provided through the school system free of charge. The rest is history.

I believe that we must catch people at a young age and present them with as many opportunities as possible and that it has to be something that is completely open to them and their families without them worrying about how to pay for these things. This is the key time when kids are still young to really capture their interest and to nurture that.

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If they don’t get that opportunity they miss out on the very fact of learning, whether they have an aptitude or an interest for it or not. Music is such a huge subject, there are so many avenues to it, it isn’t just about learning the instrument, it’s about a form of expression. It’s about linking up with other subjects, it’s about the social aspect – it’s about so many things. Learning an instrument is a form of discipline. When you play as part of a group you are taking responsibility for how it fits in with other people as well.

When you have people saying music is a soft subject and there are cutbacks and all sorts of pressures on schools to achieve grades, and we’re dealing with a subject that is virtually impossible to examine or put a grade on, it almost becomes unsurprising that there are these charges. 
I’m seeing it all over the world.

To change things, you need the head of each school to believe in the importance of music.

That means embracing music in all its forms, whether it’s learning an instrument or learning to compose on the computer. Scotland has such great traditional music to draw upon and I believe it needs to remain alive within the schools as well.