Musical nation reputation under threat

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Wales will no longer be a musical nation unless it tackles a crisis in funding for school music lessons, a leading conductor has told AMs. Owain Arwel Hughes said music taught children self-discipline, and people had told him it saved them from prison. He called for the setting up of a national “hub” with public funding to encourage music education for all. The Welsh Government said it remained “committed” to teaching music, and planned a national endowment fund.

The founder of the Welsh Proms was asked to give evidence to the assembly’s culture committee inquiry into music education after telling BBC Wales in December about his fears of the impact of cuts by cash-strapped local councils. Mr Hughes told AMs it was not just a matter of playing music for enjoyment or a career, but claimed it was vital to children’s development and should not depend on their families being able to afford lessons and instruments.

“Everyone should have an equal opportunity, no question at all,” he said. “Funding has got to be found because it is absolutely vital in people’s education.  “The things that come out of it is amazing – I have been told personally by some players that if they hadn’t learnt an instrument and gone either into an orchestra or that career, they would have been in prison.”

Mr Hughes spoke of his concern that the number of youngsters auditioning to join the National Youth Orchestra of Wales had fallen to a record low. “Only a certain percentage go into the profession, because it’s a tough profession,” he said.

“But they become teachers … they become doctors, they become lawyers, and they’re good at that because they’ve had the discipline of learning their instrument in the first place and being part of an orchestra or a choir or whatever.” Music was also vital to people’s health through its therapeutic value, and in keeping older people active, the conductor added.

Mr Hughes claimed music was better than sport at teaching children self-discipline, but needed to be given a much higher priority within education and public funding. “Whenever there’s a problem anywhere in finance, the first people to suffer are the arts and music in particular – we get knocked down all the time,” he said.

Music education in England enjoyed £75m worth of funding every year through a network of hubs, Mr Hughes added, while in Wales music was just one part of a £20m Creative Learning through the Arts scheme. Mr Hughes said he and his fellow musicians would be willing to offer help and advice in setting up a national hub, and warned that Wales’ artistic reputation was under threat. “The way things are going we are not going to be a musical nation, because, as I’ve said about the youth orchestra, the people aren’t there,” he said.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We remain committed to teaching music and all pupils are required to study the subject up to the age of 14. “We expect all pupils to be given the opportunity to gain experience of a wide range of musical disciplines. We also have in place a £20m programme to support schools to use creativity to inspire learners and raise attainment.

“Creativity will be at the heart of our new curriculum, where the arts in education will not be a luxury or added extra, but a core component. “While music services are the responsibility of local authorities, we are committed to creating a new a National Endowment for Music fund and will make an announcement on this later this year.”


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