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Next entry: Going through the motions of good manners
Previous entry: Jackie D connects me to Ewan McIntosh's edu.blogs.com
Tuesday January 08 2008

Today I bought the latest issue of Gramophone, and the Letter of the month for this month (February), from Bill Proctor of Chiselhurst, Kent, reads as follows:

You quoted a piece in The Times about getting children to practise, however reluctantly, as “an important part of the educational process” (Taking Note, December, page 17).  The cello seems to be an instrument particularly designed to put small children off: probably because of its size and lack of dignity.  I suffered myself as a child.  My eight-year-old son suffered even more: cello practice on Sunday evenings was a nightmare for all concerned and even though he graduated to the local schools’ string orchestra he was delirious when able to give it up at secondary age. Ten years later, a very streetwise young man taught himself jazz guitar from scratch and within six months was playing more than passable Hendrix riffs.  At 23, he is now progressing with Bach, Haydn and Scarlatti at the keyboard, while perfecting his technique on drums. He is quite clear of the reasons for his new facility: playing an instrument as a child, particularly in an ensemble, taught him to read the line, to feel the beat and to relate to other players - the key requirements for any musician.

Even if my son does not progress to professional status, he has been won over as both performer and listener and his whole life has been enormously enhanced as a result. Will someone in the government wake up to the need restore instrumental and vocal tuition to the proud place which it once held in the elementary school system?  It would involve quite a lot of our money, but it would produce a substantial number of more fulfilled and satisfied future citizens.

This is as deeply felt a presentation of the no-pain-no-gain theory of education as you could hope to read.  I dislike educational compulsion of all kinds, but there is no question that it can often compel people to become interested in things that they would otherwise ignore.

So, I agree that teaching music even to those reluctant to learn it might indeed “produce a substantial number of more fulfilled and satisfied future citizens”.  But what else might it produce?  What about those who are put off music by being forced to do it?

I just cannot accept that for people to aspire to heaven, they must first be put through hell.

I think it’s a broken window thing.

Posted by fjfjfj on 10 January 2008

It makes sense to introduce children to music and to encourage them to enjoy learning an instrument and singing.

However, if they don’t enjoy it or want to continue, I don’t believe it is right to force them. What does make sense, though, is to encourage them to listen actively and be involved as much as possible in the kind of music that appeals to them, and to be curious about other sorts of music that they might come to enjoy.

Music at present has an over-supply of professional performers. It could do with more intelligent listeners who can make a reasoned judgement as to good and bad (in their opinion) and will then support that judgement with money and time.

It could also do with more people who play an instrument unashamedly for enjoyment alone without always comparing themselves unfavourably with the pros. Our forefathers before the days of recorded music suffered no such inferiority complexes, and they were responsible for a great flourishing of amateur music-making and for providing active audiences.

Too many people nowadays, especially those who listen to classical music, owe their awareness of performance traditions and styles to the current fashions and preferences of the musical establishment, which seeks to dictate musical taste. The less power that establishment has over people’s listening and buying habits, the better.

If your house is full of interesting CDs of all kinds, sooner or later your bored teenager will stumble across the magic of Sibelius (or Tim Buckley, or Nina Simone). It’ll still be their discovery - but you’ll have created the atmosphere and groundwork for it to happen. That’s the best kind of education.

Once you get a really, really good piece of music inside you, it’s not hard to find the motivation to become its conduit to the outside world. From bad singing in the bath, to conducting along with your Mahler records, to tyro Hendrix riffs on a clapped-out Strat, the desire comes first - then everything else is technique.

Posted by John Kersey on 10 January 2008
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