'Many instruments will cease to be played unless something dramatic is done about music education in schools'

Posted on: 07 Nov 2018
Posted by: Mark Bradbury

Mark Bradbury, director of music at the Royal High School Bath, discusses the power of music – in healing, inspiring joy and aiding academic achievement.

Music has been at the centre of my life for as long as I can remember and I am saddened for the many, many children in this country who will never have the opportunity to discover their musical talent.

The systematic downgrading of music and other creative subjects in this country’s schools is nothing short of scandalous. Since 2010, when the ‘eBacc’ was launched and failed to include music as a core subject, music in schools has suffered immeasurably.

Report after report and leading figures in the musical world – both from the classical and pop worlds – have warned that our music education is in crisis. Uptake of music at GCSE has fallen by more than 15% in just two years with a knock-on effect for children studying music in the years below. Now experts, including the MD of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, James Williams, have issued a warning about the future composition of orchestras after a survey indicated that several instruments were “endangered” including the French horn, double bass and trombone. Mr Williams has urged the music education sector to work harder at promoting orchestral instruments. I believe it is sad but not surprising because of the side-lining of music that we have witnessed in recent years, that many instruments will cease even to be played in the future unless something dramatic is done.

We are depriving a whole generation of the joy of picking up a musical instrument and learning to play. It doesn’t matter if they only ever play that instrument for fun – or if they work through their grades – they have had the opportunity to play and participate and be inspired.

Music brings people together in a way nothing else can – you only have to look at the power of a major concert or the Proms to see the joys of being a part of a live musical event. Look at Live Aid – currently recreated on our screens in Bohemian Rhapsody – have you ever seen a more moving and enduring example of the power of music to bring people together in a common cause?

This weekend, towns, cities and villages across the UK will commemorate Remembrance Sunday. It is hard to think of the season of remembrance without the solemn music which accompanies it. Where would we be without the haunting sound of The Last Post played out at war memorials across the UK? Soon we may run short of musicians to play it. That is a stark thought.

Music has a power to inspire joy and evoke emotions in a way nothing else has. In an age where we are constantly told that younger and younger children are suffering mental health problems, consider the healing power of music and the physical and mental health benefits it brings with it not to mention the social aspect of working together to make music.

Playing instruments together in class or as part of an ensemble or orchestra brings immense pleasure to children whether we are talking about children in playgroups playing simple instruments and singing or secondary school students.

The power of singing – which music teachers have always been aware of – has become big news over the last few years as presenters like Gareth Malone have harnessed the power of singing into choirs, leading to a resurgence of choirs in the UK.

Music helps us to relax and at the same time stirs the emotions. It teaches us to communicate with each other and to work in collaboration. It gives children a sense of achievement to learn how to play music and to be able to entertain others.

We need to ask the question: Why is music in education NOT a core subject when the benefits are so very clear to see?

Academically, music is the only subject that has elements which can be linked to every other subject: for example: languages - English, French, Italian and German (musical terminology); maths - (time signatures, rhythmic notation etc.); sciences - (sound waves, instrument construction etc.); technology - (music recording industry, sound engineering); history - (Western classical music from 1600-present day); geography (world music - Indian, African, Indonesian, Latin American, Eastern Europe Folk Music, Chinese etc.) and art (minimalism, surrealism, renaissance, baroque, etc).

Quite simply, music not only nurtures and enhances skills which can be used across the curriculum but also enhances the lives of those that are able to embrace it.

As director of music at a school like the Royal High School in Bath, I am particularly lucky that music is seen as a central part of school life: nearly half of the girls here take at least one instrumental lesson a week and they have countless opportunities to perform with up to 40 concerts in any given year for everyone to perform in. Girls are positively encouraged to try a variety of instruments at a young age and this helps to ensure uptake of a wide range of instruments.

Investment by the GDST (of which we are part) and donations from parents and alumnae mean we are able to move into our very own music school in 2020, with its very own recital room, practice facilities and fully equipped professional standard recording studio ensuring that all areas of music can continue to flourish well into the future. Others are not so lucky.

If this country does not heed the warnings of such senior figures as James Williams from the Royal Philharmonic, we will not have any musicians to play in orchestras in the not too distant future.

About Mark Bradbury

Mark Bradbury is director of music at the Royal High School Bath.