Our Head of Partnerships, Christina Astin, writes:
Music partnership projects are on the increase, with some wonderful joint workshops and performances organised across schools. These are fantastic opportunities for young instrumentalists to link with others and make music together.
These projects are great for those who can already play an instrument. But what about the many children who have not been able to access music lessons? We know from the media that the provision of music tuition in schools has declined drastically over the past couple of decades and learning an instrument has become a luxury available to few young people. Chat to professional musicians and many will tell you that they started with free music lessons as young children.
The UK faces a decline in cultural capital and generational unfamiliarity with classical music, which is particularly stark for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. At The King’s School we decided to do something about this, at least in Canterbury. With over 650 music lessons each week and more than 20 ensembles, King’s has an international reputation for excellence in music. We have always encouraged participation in our orchestras from local children, but we want to do more. The Director of Music Will Bersey and Head of Partnerships Christina Astin have developed in innovative initiative: Sounding Out.
Located in the heart of the city, we have opened up our music department on Saturday mornings to offer instrumental tuition to children from local primary schools. The project is a genuine attempt to increase the musical opportunities for children in Canterbury so that they can eventually progress to joining local ensembles and orchestras (and not just at King’s!). It launched in September after careful research to assess the challenges locally, plan a scheme which would be pragmatic and impactful, and ensure that we were not duplicating others’ attempts to build community music in the city.
For this pilot year we decided to start with four city centre schools whose Year 5 pupils (age 9 or 10) had previously experienced some whole-class music teaching. The project leader, Julie Evans, worked closely with their music coordinators and class teachers to invite children who might not otherwise have had access to musical tuition. Teachers were appointed to teach the trumpet and violin and lead our general musicianship hour “Saturday Jam”. Each beginner has been given their own instrument to take home and practise on, as well as a music case and tutorial books. An administrator welcomes the children each Saturday morning, keeps in touch with families to ensure commitment and checks up on practice routines! Attendance has been close to 100% which has been very gratifying, especially on grey November mornings – the smart new hoodies may have helped! The King’s School funds Sounding Out, with assistance from generous donors, and families are asked to contribute just £2 per week.
Last year the winners of the BBC Young Musician competition wrote a joint letter to the Guardian, pleading for all primary school children to be given free music lessons. “It is crucial to restore music’s rightful place in children’s lives, not only with all the clear social and educational benefits, but showing them the joy of making and sharing music.” They worry about Britain’s reputation at the forefront of performing arts fading if urgent action is not taken.
This is not just a crisis of populating future orchestras but a whole generation missing out on the enjoyment of music, essential for a happy society. We know that learning a musical instrument brings benefits for both mental health and brain development, improving motor skills, memory and even mathematical ability. The new Ofsted framework encourages “learners to develop and discover their interests and talents, developing their resilience, confidence and independence“– what better way to achieve this than through music.
It’s a small step, but we hope to do our bit to reverse the widening gap between those who have access to learning a musical instrument and those who do not. As Sounding Out expands in numbers, instruments and reach in years to come, we aim make a difference to a generation of young people growing up – encouraging them to be creators as well as consumers.