Music education and its celebrity voices

In the months leading up to the 2010 British General Election the Conservative Party began taking a serious interest in music education. The then shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, wrote in glowing terms of the work of a primary music teacher near to parliament in Pimlico. He also told of his own music education where at age 11 he had been introduced to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. And there was talk of bringing back orchestras and choirs.

The Conservatives were a government in waiting and there was acute awareness that they would need to have something to say about the future of music education. There had been the music manifesto of 2000 and an ensuing flurry of agitated projection of what might now become of music education.

Beyond this politicians of all persuasions had learnt that music education had powerful voices in the wings that could be brought centre stage should the music education community need.

There had been interventions in the past by Sir Simon Rattle, Pierre Boulez, for example, and now celebrity cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, a persistent irritant in calling for universal musical suffrage was at hand.

Enter Michael Gove and a National Plan for Music Education. Music education truly sponsored by the state.

Much has transpired since with new celebrity voices entering the drama and in the Times Education Supplement of last week no less than international superstar Lang Lang described as the world’s leading pianist.

Lang Lang notes that educational systems typically fail to adequately value music. ‘Music looks easy to cut’, and a story that is familiar in many countries where neo-liberal culturo-economic values hold sway unfolds.

Despite the overblown TES headline ‘How music can boost results, creativity and students’ self-esteem’ Lang Lang has an interesting rational for music education. It is not about learning to play an instrument or about distilling theory but rather understanding music as an art. This makes a refreshing addition to the more common rhetoric.

And so the celebrity sponsorship of music education continues unabated.

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber is the sponsor of the music programme of Highbury Grove School in Islington where all pupils learn an orchestral instrument.

Nicky Benedetti is at the heart of the Sistema Scotland programme.

At the same time the vast majority of schools without celebrity sponsorship turn to the patronage of their Music Hub or is it their Academy Trust?

But watch this space, perhaps the ground is being prepared for the Uber of music education to sweep all before it legitimating the state’s withdraw from its century and a half sponsorship of music education. Perhaps this is the real plan.








3 thoughts on “Music education and its celebrity voices

  1. pepperdog

    I used to work as a teacher for our LEA music service. It was really good. We had a private music company rival but that was really good too. There were private teachers too and most of them were pretty good. It shouldn’t really matter who runs music in schools as long as it is good. Why should it be the state?

  2. In the long history of music education the state has played an insignificant part.

    It was Plato who thought it should play a part in regulating the moral standing of its citizens.

    It is still the state that is unwilling to give up a role in the socialisation of its citizens.

    Christopher Small recommended that music be de-schooled with community centres available for music makers.

  3. I suspect the state are coming to realise that, at least in the matter of music education, patronage is a much more effective (and less expensive) means of exercising control than statutory curricular.

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