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April 27, 2005 


There were a few things I wanted to talk about. I've typed loads and split it into more than one post. All were done in Word, so I haven't linked to anything. You'll have to use your initiative. First up, music.

Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies has been complaining about the standard of music teaching in schools, and the steady decline over the last 30 years as successive governments have cut funding. (Actually can’t find a link to this, but it was on Today on Radio 4, so it must be true!) If this is true then I was at school at the beginning of the decline.

In my second year of juniors the whole class sat a test where we had to identify if a note was higher or lower than its predecessor. I know it has a posh name, but I can’t remember it now. The instruments available were dished out to the top performers. I’d like to say there was a choice and that I chose violin, but actually there were 9 violins and I got one of them. It rapidly became obvious that I was the only person there with any kind of musicality, which even then made me wonder about how valid the test was. Six months later I was the sole survivor, and sharing a lesson with the sole survivor from the year above me. Perhaps this was why there were always violins available.

When I moved up into secondary school I didn’t choose it because it had good music. I chose it because I could walk to it. As it happened, musically it was either the best or the worst thing I could have done. Probably the best, as I am still playing now. There was a vibrant music department, with an orchestra, band, two choirs and various small groups. The teachers could most definitely read music, and had no inhibitions about introducing us to both modern and ancient classical music. We often spent our lessons discussing pop music and how it worked. Although I still have problems with some of the running of that department, there was and is no denying that music teaching works at Egglescliffe to this day.

However, Egglescliffe is now a specialist music (and drama, I think) school. For the pupils there, this is a good thing. But I wonder how the teaching suffers in the schools around, as parents with musical children send them to Egglescliffe doesn’t the musical life of the other secondary schools naturally diminish, creating a clique of people who are interested in classical music and relegating the rest to a life of Britney and Keane?

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the questions, and I certainly don’t agree with everything I’ve read about Sir PMD’s speech. I do know that with the increasing popularity of film scores like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings new people are introduced to classical music every day. If they don’t know who Purcell was then so what? Personally I’d rather listen to any one of fifty composers before I got to him.

I have to say I absolutely agree on Purcell!

At my first secondary school in East London, people were sorted into forms according to ability. There was the music form, the sports form and the I-haven't-figured-out-what-they-were form. I was in the music form. It was actually a really good system, because all the people from my form were also in orchestra, choir, folk group, recorder club etc. We spent our free time together as well as our lesson time and ended up forging some great friendships. I don't know whether everyone still plays their instruments but I know that one of us is a church organist and although I haven't picked up my 'cello in a while I fully intend to start playing at church as soon as the girls are old enough to not need holding at Mass.

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