Few read music or play instruments... WHY?
THE DECLINE OF COMMUNITY MUSIC MAKING
When considering an article published in the Chronicle and Echo by features editor Lily Canter several weeks ago, about the cutting of funding for opportunities for wind and brass bands to play at the bandstand in Abington Park this summer, I couldn’t help agreeing with the sentiments of the bands interviewed. One commentator from Moulton Brass said that when bands were connected to schools the community band players weren’t seen as geeks by the children and recruiting was not a problem! Without doubt there is a serious lack of interest in our community groups among both adults and the youth; and indeed they continue to be in decline both nationally as well as locally.
Is there a link between this decline and how we learn instruments in school?
As a professional musician with over 20 years experience, conductor of the successful Northamptonshire Orchestral Winds, and an instrumental music teacher to Northampton schools for the last 10 years, I consider that there may well be.
Who is given the opportunity to start instruments in schools?
There is usually an opportunity for only a handful of students to start each year, typically 6 to 12. Those students tend to be the ones whose parents can afford to pay. If lots of children want to play, the school still continues to restrict the amount of time given for the activity as the time allocation is decided before children are asked. Children are then auditioned and are selected according to the instrumental teacher’s criteria.
They may be tested for ability to hear pitches or rhythm or both. They are examined for size of hands and ability to produce an embouchure and make a sound straight away. Some teachers have a “first 6 through the door” policy! And not forgetting the so-called gut reaction!
Everyone is trying to do what they can under the circumstances! The one’s that can’t be offered a place feel like rubbish and total failures. The negative reaction against ‘classical’ music starts here!
What happens next?
Instrumental lessons are normally in classroom curriculum time. This means that little Johnny has to leave say Maths or English for his weekly instrumental lesson and sometimes has to miss the same bit of curriculum lesson every week.
Instrumental lessons if taken individually usually last 10 minutes, but in groups of 2 or 3 they can be as much as 20 or 30 minutes long. The latter having greater negative impact on Johnny’s curriculum subject education, but better for understanding music.
How easy is it to teach an instrument in 10 minutes?
A first lesson may simply involve how to assemble and take care of the instrument. Already we feel that there’s so much to playing the instrument that the time constraint is now getting in the way of Johnny’s progress.
In the next lesson we may have a broken instrument or reed and it takes a few minutes to fix. Then we get onto more embouchure but Johnny has forgotten how to make a sound as the instrument did not work that week and the class teacher wasn’t able to fix it. When do you get the time to actually teach Johnny how to read music? Lots of teachers just end up writing in the names of the notes which will spoil Johnny’s ability to read music altogether.
This sort of scenario can easily continue for several weeks until the inevitable happens. Johnny looses interest and gives up!
How many actually give up in school?
Nobody has complete stats here but it is an alarmingly high percentage. In some schools where there is a very good tradition in music, good class music teachers and supportive heads and parents, not many actually give up, but this is not the case in every school. In a handful of schools for example no beginner continues beyond the first year and the average drop out rate across the schools is about 70%!
What is the knock on effect of this?
The experience is so negative that many will never ever try again, believing now that they are totally rubbish on instruments, and just put the experience into the dustbin of their past; some will continue to trash playing musical instruments and even discourage others in the process.
It’s hardly surprising that we develop a culture of separation between the geeks that can play, and the others that can’t. Extraordinary talent is not actually necessary to play at a reasonably accomplished level on an instrument, just enough time and support!!
The Education Curriculum is in direct opposition to Instrumental Teaching and causes children to give up!!!
When your child is out of the class he/she is missing out on vital curriculum subject, which puts more strain on the teacher as the same system judges staff by results. If several children are going out one after the other, then several children are missing different parts of lessons. I learnt of a child last year that missed the same bit of work every week for a whole year and it was a spelling test. The class teacher had not picked up on this. This only surfaced at the parents evening when the mother asked ‘why is my daughter spelling so badly?’
For the above reasons not all class teachers can appreciate their pupils going out of the class and can be quite negative about instrumental lessons at times and this is usually picked up by the child. This often causes the child to give up especially if s/he is having difficulties with playing.
I was teaching in one school and a pupil missed 2 lessons consecutively. At the beginning of third missed lesson I went to the classroom to find out what the problem was. It transpired that the teacher was not letting him go because of ‘literacy hour’; I pointed out that his parents were paying for lessons and he had missed 2 already, which I couldn’t make up as it was impractical. The teacher gave in rather grudgingly, and I never had a problem with that teacher again. This situation was not satisfactory for me, the class teacher, or the child.
In another school I always went to get my students as none of the class teachers let them out of lessons for instrumental music. I was the only instrumental teacher that actually increased time in that school the next year as none of my students gave up and more pupils came up from feeder schools.
What is the answer?
Head teachers cannot just take children out of lessons for a longer period because they would miss even more curriculum time and the expense for the instrumental lessons and impact on education would be far greater.
THE WAY FORWARD!
In order to increase the success of community music groups will need to raise the numbers of children learning in schools and their chance of success without compromising their education. This can only be done by teaching in very large groups for a number of hours a week, and it needs to be done so cheaply every child can be involved.
LEARN IN BANDS
I believe systems like Learn in Bands (www.learninbands.co.uk) are essential at assisting schools to make a radical shift away from an ineffective, costly system to something more effective, affordable and inclusive.
With Learn In Bands all children in 2 or 3 classes learn together with one conductor who can demonstrate all the instruments. Classroom teachers will not be involved and can use that time on PPA (Planning, Preparation & Assessment), thus reducing the overall financial burden on the schools and making it free to parents. This way of learning an instrument will never clash with the Educational Curriculum, but will complement it in so many ways.
Better academic results
Better community relations
Fantastic school music groups
Higher take up of less popular instruments
Increased number of music students and more private pupils
More playing instruments in tertiary education, more university orchestras
Greater participation in and higher quality community group music
And it’s definitely a more pleasant way of tackling antisocial behaviour than the ASBO!
Timothy Reynish (famous conductor) explained that when in America last year he was conducting a SCHOOL BAND in Shostakovich’s Festive Overture (a very fast difficult piece that can challenge most county level groups in this country). The students were all in year 9 (age 13/14), from one school year group, most of them had not had an individual lesson in the 4 years they had been learning, and they were all beyond grade 6 standard! This is only possible if instrumental lessons/band practice does not clash with curriculum lessons, and they are all taught by one competent teacher/conductor for long enough.
If my child’s school won’t allow enough music outside class education what can I do?
You could find a band in your community that teaches beginners and lead the way by taking up an instrument yourself. A group such as Northamptonshire Orchestral Winds -NOW (www.now4band.co.uk) is introducing group teaching for all in the community and at only £2 an hour this maybe your answer!
Summary and conclusion
In my view there is clearly a strong link between the decline of community music and the way musical instrument tuition is delivered in our schools
- Very few children are given the opportunity to play
- The time allocation is far too small for many children to understand so most just give up
- The educational curriculum is in direct conflict with instrumental teaching so has a negative impact on children’s education
- For the above reasons children tend to view community musicians as geeks and are reluctant to take up an instrument later
As instrumental lessons have followed this format for many decades in schools the compound effect on society at large is so serious there needs to be a national debate on the subject. The only real way of stemming the decline in community music is for more/all children to learn in large groups and operate those groups outside standard curriculum learning.
Northamptonshire Orchestral Winds 31/8/07
Northamptonshire Orchestral Winds presents
The Guy Woolfenden Festival
a 2 day educational event - the composer conducts!
17th & 18th November - don't miss it it's going to be amazing!!!!!!!
Guy Woolfenden OBE was the head of music at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon for 37 years. Composer, conductor, and professional horn players has reached 70 and was recently honoured by the Queen. Guy wrote the first BASBWE commission 25 years ago with Gallimaufry which as an instant success.
Gallimaufry, like many of his wonderful concert band works are still regularly performed today.
Guy Woolfenden will be taking the baton to direct a large number of his own concert band works in a weekend of great joy in Music.
Assistant conductor is NOW's founder and Musical Director Andrew Bassey.
Please register you interest by contacting us and requesting an application form
by email email@example.com
or by phone 01604513506
£65 (food not included)
£45 for NOW members and Carnegie Hall players
Full time students have a further reduction please ask for details
Playing standard for this course is Grade 7 +
Closing date for applications 1st November 2007
Saturday 17th November
9am Registration & refreshments
10 - 1 Session 1
1 - 2 Lunch
2 - 5 session 2
5 - 6 Dinner
6 - 8 session 3
10 - 1 Session 4
1 - 2 Lunch
2 - 4.30
4.30 - 6 break/dinner
6 - 8.30 CONCERT
Learn a musical instrument for £2 an hour?
Northamptonshire Orchestral Winds is helping stem the decline in community music by offering group lessons on any wind or brass instrument, to anyone, from the age of nine, including Parents and adults. Book for the FREE presentation, 3pm, Saturday 15th September at Abington Avenue URC, Northampton at, which will help you decide what to play. Contact Andrew on 01604513506. Wow, expert tuition for 2 hours a week! Instruments rent as low as £13 monthly.
Northamptonshire Orchestral Winds (NOW) in collaboration with the British Association of Symphonic Wind Bands and Wind Ensembles (BASBWE) brings the music of Adam Gorb to our county. The Festival runs for two days – April 14th & 15th. NOW is also busy organising its trip to America in March 2008 with its debut at Carnegie Hall, New York
Adam Gorb is Head of Composition and Contemporary Music at the Royal Northern College of Music and is coming to Wellingborough as joint course director to assist in the development of his challenging wind band music, and there are still places available for advanced players. Please contact us on 0800 0789 149 or visit our website www.now4band.co.uk for more details.
Adam’s music is very approachable, fun, and witty and everyone will love it!
The concert at the end of the course will be introduced by Adam Gorb preceded by a free glass of wine at 5.30. The concert is at 6.00pm, 15th April at the Senior School Hall, Wellingborough Independent School, Irthlingborough Road, Wellingborough, Northants.
To reserve your FREE* place at this groundbreaking Adam Gorb Festival Concert please telephone the NOW hotline on 0800 0789 149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
* There will be a collection afterwards for NOW Funds.
NOW hosts tribute to
fellow Northamptonian, Sir Malcolm Arnold.
Winds (NOW) brought a selection of Arnold’s modern and dramatic writing to life, as a memorial
to the late composer. The showcase took place at
local venue St Lawrence Church, Towcester on Saturday 11th November.
It was a challenging and dramatic programme of works by Arnold, in which the musicians, under director Andrew
Bassey, paid tribute to the Northampton-born composer who died on 23rd
September this year. The
evening took off with
the spirited march, HRH Duke of Cambridge and immediately NOW revelled
in Arnold's dramatic writing, which typically involves the whole
orchestra. This paved the way for the
contrasting moods and textures of ‘Sarabande and Polka’ from the ballet
‘Solitaire,’ and his first film ‘The Sounds Barrier,’ which displayed Arnold’s
intricate tripping passages embedded between fluid and gutsy melodies, amongst
others. To round off the first half,
Andrew took to role-reversal, as one raffle ticket winner was invited to take
over the white stick, step up to the podium and conduct NOW through the Colonel
Bogy March. NOW strives to bring all the community aboard, and the audience
soon caught on, clapping the beat. Word
about NOW has quickly spread across Towcester since their first ‘Celebration’
concert there in May. The audience was more than triple the size of last time
with several familiar faces to be spotted in the crowd. One audience member, Elaine
Hawker, who has been to several of the orchestra’s concerts, was especially
impressed by NOW’s performance of Tam O’Shanter Overture. She said, ‘The
performance was so energetic it left me breathless, and I was only watching. I
can’t imagine what the musicians must have felt like by the end of it all. It
was a fabulous, exciting programme.’
All money raised will go
towards NOW’s trip to Carnegie Hall, New York, now planned for March 2008 as it
had to be delayed a year due to lack of funding. If you missed to Towcester
concert, NOW are holding a repeat performance at Holy Trinity Church, Rothwell, on Friday 17th November, 8pm. Take advantage of the special offer, buy one get
one free by booking in advance. To do so call free phone 08000 789 149 or through
the website. (Jo Burge)