Once upon a time back in 2007 there was a violinist called David Juritz who decided to travel around the world with his violin, playing Bach and raising money for a new charity. Inspired by the success of El Sistema in Venezuela and Buskaid in South Africa, David wanted to do something to help teachers start similar projects in developing countries.
Twenty-four countries and 50 cities later David busked on every continent except the Antarctic and played the entire Bach repertoire for solo violin. He also raised £25,000 to start his charity Musequality.
Sadly, the charity no longer exists but during my time there I was moved profoundly by one piece of news. At the Tender Talents Magnet School in Kampala the first group of children to take part in the Musequality project at the school all the way through their secondary education achieved straight ‘A’s in their final exams. Many went on to university.
This fantastic performance meant that the school shot up the Ugandan league tables to 250th out of over 5,000 schools. But this school receives no direct government funding and draws its pupils from the poorest section of the community. A high proportion have lost parents to AIDS while others are refugees from conflict. The school relies on donations, bartering and fees from the few parents who can afford to pay.
It was a humbling piece of news and it was probably the moment that I really understood the importance of music to the development of a child.
The benefits of music to the brain and to development are reiterated in successive articles published almost daily. In state schools the battle to retain music within the new Ebacc system rages on. Cuts to state music education have reduced the pool of talent and music education is increasingly confined to the wealthy.
So how does that affect our children? The problem is that many schools seem to value their elite sports teams more than their fantastic music departments. Choirs and orchestras are trotted out for open evenings, speech days and the like, but it’s the elite sports teams that are seen to bring prestige to the school. It is the high achievers in sport who win school colours and commendations, not the talented musicians who put so much real work into honing their skills. Truth be told, there’s something a bit geeky about them.
The value of music is about so much more than prestige. The value it could add to the development of every child in every school is immeasurable: far greater than the value any first hockey team could ever bring. All musicians know this but it seems to be a very difficult message to convey to others.
And understanding this message is not enough. The problems facing music educators within the state system risk excluding a large proportion of extremely talented people from a subject that is at the heart of our humanity. Private schools have the luxury of running their own programmes and can prioritise whatever curriculum they choose. Perhaps sharing the music around to those who are struggling would be the best way of ensuring a happier and more stable society for the future for us all?
Black Dress Code supports the Bacc for the Future Campaign to support creative subjects in schools.