Edinburgh International Festival buys 250 instruments for schools to help pupils play on during the pandemic

The Edinburgh International Festival has revealed it is to buy more than 250 instruments for schools across the city after pupils were told not to share them during the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris Hawkey and Luo Lin Zheng perform for pupils at Hermitage Park Primary School in Leith today to launch the new initiative. Picture: Ryan Buchanan
Harris Hawkey and Luo Lin Zheng perform for pupils at Hermitage Park Primary School in Leith today to launch the new initiative. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

They will be rolled out to tackle a city-wide shortage of instruments to meet demand to learn music, which has been exacerbated by the new hygiene restrictions.

The EIF’s “Play On: Music” initiative is aimed at creating a tangible legacy from a year in which no live performances were possible at the 73-year-old event.

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It is expected to help pupils whose parents are unable to afford to buy their own instrument and encourage children from low-income families to learn music for the first time.

Harris Hawkey and Luo Lin Zheng perform on a new outdoor stage at Hermitage Park Primary in Leith which has been provided by the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

Before the pandemic, up to three children learning music were sharing the same instrument. The new instruments, which both primary and secondary pupils will be able to use, will mean they will be able to spend more time making music at home.

The purchase of around £60,000 worth of string, brass and wind instruments, as well as guitars, has emerged from a wider project by the festival to introduce school pupils to culture at an early stage.

Four outdoor stages have been created in the grounds of primary schools which are feeders for Leith Academy, where the EIF is currently running a residency programme.

A spokeswoman for the EIF said: “Play On: Music aims to remove the financial barriers to learning an instrument, provide equal opportunities for all pupils to discover music and inspire a new generation of musicians and audiences.

“The council’s Instrumental Music Service currently does not have enough instruments to meet demand, resulting in up to three pupils sharing one between them.

“This shortage is exacerbated by current Covid-safe guidelines, which prevent the sharing of instruments.

“The project ensures each individual pupil is provided an instrument for as long as they want it, allowing them to safely continue their lessons and find joy from their music tuition.

“It also focuses on attracting new primary school pupils from lower income households who would like to start lessons but would not otherwise have the opportunity.”

Caroline Donald, head of learning and engagement at the EIF, said: “We wanted to shine a light on the artists, musicians and stages that would usually bring the city to life each summer by creating a physical legacy that supports children across the city.

“We’re providing equal opportunities for all pupils to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of playing an instrument and developing the next generation of musicians and music-lovers in Edinburgh.

“Working with the Leith Academy feeder schools is an excellent opportunity for us to build upon our successful residency.

"We’re looking forward to seeing this project grow from strength to strength as artists start developing creative initiatives with the schools, when possible within the guidelines.”

Ian Perry, Edinburgh City Council’s education convener, said: “The pandemic has restricted so many the normal day to day activities in schools like playing musical instruments so this investment from the festival is fantastic.

"Access to the arts is important to our young people, for attainment, wider achievement, and health and wellbeing, particularly in the current situation.

"This is especially true for those who may face financial barriers and are not able to play an instrument.”

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