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Make music compulsory like maths and English, says Nicola Benedetti

11 May 2015

© BBC/Simon Fowler

Children should be forced to learn about classical music in the same way they have lessons in maths, science, history or English, according to violinist Nicola Benedetti.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the 27-year-old said: ‘Children should be exposed to anything that has the sophistication and breadth of unbelievable content that classical music does, just as I think they should be exposed to the greatest books ever written.

‘You’re not just developing concentration and focus in order to try to understand the music. You are also getting something that has life lessons, has beauty, has uplift and joy and sorrow and tragedy – all the things that you will have to deal with in your life at some point.’

Benedetti also criticised parents who allow their children to play video games rather than introducing them to the arts.

‘It actually really upsets me when people say: “Kids hate listening to a symphony, why would we do that to them?”

‘Needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English.

‘But suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: “Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.” It just bemuses me.’

Benedetti, who won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2004, is involved in education initiatives including Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise project.

Conservatives free to implement education policy

8 May 2015

10 Downing Street: David Cameron's Conservatives should be able to legislate without support from other parties
10 Downing Street: David Cameron's Conservatives should be able to legislate without support from other partiespcruciatti / Shutterstock.com

The Conservative party, led by prime minister David Cameron, has secured an outright parliamentary majority following the 7 May general election. 

The result leaves the party free to move forward with its manifesto proposals, which include a commitment to ‘require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography’. 

Ofsted would be ‘unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects’, and the policy will open a new line of pressure on school leadership teams to prioritise these subjects.  

In a pre-election interview, David Cameron identified ‘a bit of a muddle’ over the importance of music education. ‘Sometimes people look at the core of the curriculum and they want everything to be in it,’ he said.

‘I’m a great believer that at the heart of a good education you’ve got to get the basics right. And so we’ve been quite tough saying the basics have got to be the reading, the writing, the numeracy.’

The introduction of the Progress 8 and Attainment 8 performance measures, planned to be published alongside performance tables from 2016, is also now expected. Under the system, which will measure pupils’ progression at secondary level, musical achievements might not count towards a pupil’s score if not studied alongside English Baccalaureate subjects.

Away from education policy, the Conservatives’ fiscal plans include continued reductions in public spending. Local authorities expect further real-terms budget cuts, and the impact of these is likely to be felt disproportionately on services which local authorities are not legally obliged to provide, for example in supporting music education hubs. Many councils across the UK have already made significant reductions in their support for local music education.

In his acceptance speech, Cameron hailed a country ‘with unrivalled skills and creativeness, a country with such good humour and such great compassion. And I’m convinced that if we draw on all of this, then we can take these islands, with their proud history, and build an even prouder future’.

Downing Street has as yet made no announcements on ministerial positions, but incumbent education secretary Nicky Morgan, school reform minister Nick Gibb, culture secretary Sajid Javid and culture minister Ed Vaizey have all been re-elected. The Liberal Democrats’ schools minister, David Laws, has lost his Yeovil seat.

Andrea Jenkyns, the Conservative MP who ousted former Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls from his seat in Morley and Outwood, is an amateur soprano and has previously worked as a music tutor, ‘teaching in three secondary schools’ according to her biography.

Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, said: ‘We’re confident that in the coming weeks we’ll be working with a team in government that understands the value that arts and culture can bring. In the last parliament we saw arts and culture get a more favourable grant in aid settlement than many for 2015/16. We’ve also seen an £18m increase in the money going to music education hubs.

’Arts and culture make a tremendous contribution to England’s way of life. Now we will focus on making the important arguments – from health and well-being, education, and the economy – as well, of course, the intrinsic value of great art, great artists and great arts organisations, museums and libraries. We will ensure that all the key decision-makers fully understand the vital role that public investment plays in our cultural ecology.’

Stockport Schools Brass Band plans open day to boost membership

8 May 2015

Stockport Schools Brass Band (SSBB) is holding an open day to attract new junior members after a dramatic decline in numbers.

The Junior Band Open Day, which will be held at the headquarters of Stockport Music Service on Saturday 9 May, will include workshops, musical games and the chance to meet existing members of the junior band, as well as a live performance.

Founded in 1978, SSSB has three bands for brass players aged six to 18. Membership of all three has fallen in recent years: the senior band has shrunk from around 50 members in the 1980s to only 20 today.

The junior band, which caters for beginners, now has only ten members.

Alice Bell, administrator for SSBB, said: ‘We don’t have the number of players coming through that we used to have.
‘There are definitely fewer people playing brass instruments in this area. Music education is being squeezed in many schools, with more pressure on those subjects that feature in the EBacc.’ 

She added that brass instruments were often seen as less ‘cool’ than other instruments. ‘Where you used to see racks of brass instruments in schools, there are now often racks of guitars.’

Bell said she hoped the open day would highlight the benefits of playing in a brass band.
‘I often have parents of band members telling me how much the band has done for their child’s confidence. I also see what a fantastic social side it brings to band members, which lasts into their adult life.’

Students achieve diploma success at Hertford's Simon Balle School

7 May 2015

Six students at a state school in Hertford have achieved London College of Music (LCM) diploma qualifications.

Hugo Maclean, Stuart Bowden, Alex Salter, Sam Trendall and Nick Stokes all took the jazz saxophone performance DipLCM, while Niamh Parris took the classical saxophone performance DipLCM.

The students, who are all in Year 13 at Simon Balle School, were taught by lead instrumental teacher Clare Taylor, who directs the school’s 70-strong Concert Band.

Mark Taylor, director of music at the school, said it had a long tradition of participation in music and almost one in three students were learning a musical instrument.

‘Our diploma candidates were inspired by former diploma students who have gone on to excel at music college,’ he said.

‘Music is the lifeblood of Simon Balle School. The discipline, hard work, team work and musical family that we have are so important to all our musicians.

‘For many, it is their best memory of school life. For some each year, it is the stepping stone to music college and a career.’

Two of the students are hoping to pursue careers in music, while the others intended to continue playing alongside their studies.

Southbank Centre War Requiem project wins RPS Music Award

6 May 2015

© Hana Zushi-Rhodes

The Southbank Centre’s Britten’s War Requiem project has won the Learning and Participation award at the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Music Awards. 

The project, which took place in November 2014, was part of a day of activities to mark the 100th anniversary of World War One.  

Talks and workshops were held throughout the day and in the evening the work was performed by the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop (pictured). 

The judges said: ‘Britten’s War Requiem at the Southbank Centre was a truly immersive experience introducing, exploring and ultimately performing Britten’s epic War Requiem.   

‘An ambitious project encompassing talks, participatory workshops, films and the creation of a new children’s choir. The Southbank team – including the committed input of Marin Alsop – drew participants of all ages and experience into the creative and rehearsal process.  

‘The project reflected the profound nature of Britten’s work and was distinctive for its overall quality and its attention to detail.’ 

Other winners included the Philharmonia Orchestra’s iOrchestra, which won the Audiences and Engagement award, and the Royal Opera’s Opera Machine, which took the Creative Communication prize.

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