Nurturing our musical heritage
Britain is one of the world’s richest and most enduring centres of musical culture – from the synthesis of religious text and music found in the Gregorian Chant of the 9th and 10th centuries, to the baroque composer and organist Purcell, all the way to Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten, we have contributed hugely to the musical cannon. An international outlook led to the commissioning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the Royal Philharmonic Society, and made London the city that Handel chose to call home – as well as, more recently, producing the so-called ‘British Invasion’ of the 1960s which took America and the world by storm. Today, Britain’s orchestras, conductors, soloists, choirs, chamber ensembles, bands and pop artists are some of the finest in the world. Not only is Britain one of the dominant forces in the world’s music industry, it is also an essential destination for the world’s touring artists.
Yet the musical culture that created these successes is under constant threat because of poor and unreliable funding, both at the top professional level and in the field of music education. Musical training takes place over many years, but political cycles are short. Particular casualties include the sorts of formal training in voice and instruments which lead to a career in music as a performer or creator. As has been widely reported, this effectively means that musical training and education is fast becoming a luxury for a wealthy few: only those children whose parents can pay will receive good-quality tuition. As a result, 1000 years of some of the greatest artistic achievements of our civilisation are being increasingly overlooked, as are Britain’s notable contributions to that history. As support for live music and music venues declines, so international artists will simply go elsewhere.
The choral tradition in Britain is particularly deep-rooted, stretching back over fourteen centuries, along with an associated history of organ playing. Full-time professional choirs, made up of choristers (often as young as 7 or 8) and lay clerks, and accompanied by organs, eventually became an essential part of Anglican worship – and generated centuries of great musical works. For this tradition to survive and thrive, the training programmes which feed into it must be made available to those whose families cannot pay. Outside of the musical world, Hamish Ogston is just one of many successful people who feel they can attribute their achievements in life, on some level, to their training as a chorister. Musical training teaches us to seek improvement in ourselves: practice, moment-by-moment analysis and criticism, deep artistic thought, organisation, mathematical precision, listening and communication, self-confidence and technical problem-solving are all fundamental to reaching a high level. Cooperating in large musical ensembles requires skills that can’t be taught in a classroom, and can bring about mutual understanding that cannot be brokered by politicians. Whether or not a child is going to become the next Bryn Terfel, or Adele, music should be a vital part of their education.