Council considering axing music lessons in debt after festival

A Scottish council discussing axing music instrumental lessons has been left thousands of pounds in the red after staging a major “showstopper” music festival at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, The Scotsman can reveal.

Midlothian Schools Festival of Music

A Freedom of Information request shows the annual Midlothian Schools’ Festival of Music last November cost over £20,000 – including nearly £9,000 in overtime for staff on the day of the concert.

But not all tickets were sold. The total raised on the night was £11, 792 – a loss of £8,243.

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Last night a number of teachers said council officials must have been aware of the dire state of finances and should have kept the cash to provide lessons and pay staff.

Publicity for the concert, featuring ten ensembles and 400 musically-talented pupils, stated “Midlothian Council is committed to the teaching and playing of music within our schools and communities.

“We recognise the many benefits to young people and by extension to our communities. The discipline required to learn, rehearse and play in public is a tool that will serve these young people well into adulthood.”

Next week the council will discuss proposals to cut musical instrument lessons for pupils below S4 taking Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams.

The move has been criticised by teachers, politicians, musicians and teaching unions.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti called for instrumental lessons to be ring-fenced at national level.

Christine Grahame, SNP MSP for South Scotland, who raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday and who is joining a demonstration next week organised by young musicians outside the Scottish Parliament, said: “The Usher Hall concert gives children the opportunity to show everyone what they can do. But if the council’s proposals are agreed they will end up with a string quartet for the few and not the many.

“I don’t see why music tuition should be considered a wee extra when they don’t do that to something like sport.

“If anyone is in any doubt they only need to think of the Raploch estate in Stirling and the fantastic results achieved by going to a deprived area and introducing classical music to the children.”

A spokeswoman for Midlothian Council said: “The Midlothian Schools’ Festival of Music is one of the highlights of the year but it is expensive to put on and unfortunately, we didn’t sell all the tickets, leaving us with a shortfall.

“It’s a tradition to hold it in the Usher Hall and it went ahead because not to have done so would have been a huge disappointment to pupils and their families. The purpose of the event is to showcase pupils’ talent, not to make a profit.”