One of the most exciting commitments of the general election campaign was made in Jeremy Corbyn’s wonderful eve-of-election speech in Colwyn Bay, north Wales. The promise to give every child the chance to learn a musical instrument. There is surely no greater gift for a youngster.
Corbyn has always been good on funding for the arts, especially as it applies to children. It was part of his second Labour leadership campaign and is there again in the Culture for All section of the 2017 manifesto, though the specific promise he had made previously to pay for every child to get the chance to learn an instrument and act on stage has been massaged somewhat into an “arts pupil premium” presumably designed to let schools determine cultural priorities.
Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, where teaching music and learning to play an instrument are the foundation of children’s schooling; it should be the model for us to follow. The principle is that a child is never too young to start a relationship with music; creative play is the key and it should never be a chore; musical exploration will feed into other disciplines; children should be allowed to develop at their own pace and go into music as deeply as they wish. It is fantastically successful, and Finland has produced a stream of extraordinary musicians over the past 30 years – making it surely per capita the most productive country for churning out great classical conductors and soloists.
“A child is never too young to start a relationship with music
At present, the latter is marginalised and treated like some rarefied activity, whereas in reality it is emotionally powerful and potentially universal in its appeal. The Proms start next month and for a moment classical music will flicker into a more general public consciousness, but that moment will quickly pass and once the football season starts it will be put back into its traditional box – a place for nerds, weirdos and flag-waving greybeards from the home counties. Putting music at the heart of education will improve children’s lives and, slowly but surely, improve all our lives, by making classical music seem relevant, necessary, intoxicating. Just ask the Finns