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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

There is More to Music than the X Factor


Education in schools is being undermined by sensationalist TV programmes

I return to my favourite hobby horse: the persistent under-valuing of musical education in primary and secondary schools. Earnest explanations of official goodwill towards its provision are plentiful, after all who would want to speak up against it? But there are under currents and unspoken reasons conspiring against. They go something like this: music is not a serious subject like Maths or Science, or even Literature. It is a pleasant past time and a fun diversion but not very practical as a career path, since so very few will succeed and become good enough to earn a living with it. And those who are good will succeed anyway with or without help at school because music is a gift, isn’t it? Either you’ve got it, or you haven’t.

TV has confirmed these ill-founded beliefs by creating those silly programmes with willing judges who should know better. According to these programmes, musicians arise fully formed from nowhere, their talent lying dormant, ignored and unappreciated for years until - yes, you've guessed it - they are “discovered”. Rough diamonds they may be, but what do you expect, they were picking at the coal-face till last week, just give them a couple of more weeks with top coaches (the judges themselves, who else!) and they will be complete magic.

The point is, according to the X-Factor-type programmes, success in music is all about getting "a break." I mean, on Friday Joe Lucky was collecting his wages, on Saturday he won the TV show and by Monday he was on the start of a 50 gig tour. Where does school come into it? Nowhere. It had nothing to do with Joe Lucky's lucky break. For you see, music, you can't teach it: like I've said, either you’ve got it or you ain’t.

The perverse logic of all this is, is that if talented musicians prosper without formal education, then musical education at school is mostly for the mediocre and for the music-as-a-hobby-minded. And what's the point of that?

If someone at school does show exceptional talent in music they may receive special help, especially if they can become a sort of mascot for the school. Otherwise the average music student should pay for their lessons, for music is just an activity on the fringes of education which has little relevance to the main aspects of their development.

But report after report has been published in the past 20 years or so cataloguing the benefits of musical education, much of it way beyond music itself. They have cited how many other skills are enhanced by it, due to the effect of music upon our emotional and intellectual well being.

Yet another report has just been published extolling the virtues of musical education, this time for its effects upon long-term health. According to the North-Western University of Illinois learning a musical instrument as a child could help to prevent deafness in old age since it appears that musical training has an enduring effect on how the brain processes sound. Training as a child for as little as four years can protect against the mental decline associated with deafness in old age, and not just the deterioration in the ear's sensitivity.

Overwhelming evidence in support of how making music in groups leads to socially responsible relationships has been demonstrated time and again. In Venezuela, Dr. Abreu’s Sistema has created a network of more than 200 orchestras throughout the country. Some of the recruits have been drawn from disenfranchised children on the fringes of criminal activity, who as a pre-condition for commencing musical training promise to give up anti-social behaviour. Others come from solid middle-class homes. Together they join the educational programme and make music. The Sistema is now gradually being introduced in the UK.

Musical education is hugely beneficial and impacts directly on children’s development. They may not all grow up to strut their stuff on silly TV programmers, nor become the next Nigel Kennedy, but the benefits to them and those around them are tremendous.

The idea of education is to create cultured, well-rounded young adults by the end of the long process from infant to the end of secondary school. In part it is to create skills for the work place, and in part to sharpen intelligence, decision making, rational thinking and all the mental and emotional processes we associate with maturity. Music fits fair and square into the centre of this, in ways which have been highlighted by many enquiries. The sooner absurd notions derived from sensationalist TV entertainment programmes are discarded the better it will be for the education of our children.

9th November 2013, London

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2841 .
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