Music education should be accessible to all children, regardless of geography and class – The Irish Times
As a youngster, I did not excel academically. However, music was something I felt comfortable with – a subject that came naturally to me and a learning environment I could relate to. I was one of the privileged few who had the gift of a private musical education. I will be forever grateful to my parents for the sacrifices they made to make this happen for me, but instrumental tuition shouldn’t be something families have to sacrifice for.
I arrived in New York as a visiting scholar. With my violin on my back and no community to slip into, I set off in search of one. I joined the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra for amateur and professional musicians. My private musical education was my prepaid admission price to this wonderful musical community.
I’ve seen musician friends do the same all over the world – in some cases they didn’t speak the language, but they could read the music and speak that language with the local orchestra or ensemble.
It’s fascinating how much more inclined you are to celebrate all things Irish when you’re away from home. I love talking to New Yorkers about our rich Irish culture and heritage, and successive Irish governments have done a tremendous job of championing Irish talent on the international stage and are to be applauded.
We have a lot in common with the United States when it comes to our arrangements for music education. There are pockets of wonderful projects and initiatives across the country where every child in the school receives instrumental lessons, and areas where there is little or nothing. Until we properly fund music education, it will continue to be the luck of the draw depending on whether or not you live near these schools.
The Baltimore Symphony has just named a new musical director. Jonathan Heyward comes from a low socioeconomic background and was first exposed to music during a free public school program in his native South Carolina, where he learned the cello.
Heyward, the son of an African-American father and a white mother, will be the first person of color to lead the orchestra in its 106-year history. According to the 2020 census, Blacks or African Americans made up 62.3% of Baltimore’s population.
Every child should be equipped with the skills and literacy to express themselves in the genre of their choice.
Music is the one literacy subject that can add value to all of our lives. Increased musical practice and an early onset of musical training (around age five) are associated with better speech and sound analysis in the brain. ).
Self-confidence, confidence and creativity are all areas that young people struggle with. Music is unique in the benefits it can bring to the whole person. I started learning music through the Suzuki approach and, as Dr. Shinichi Suzuki says, “Teaching music is not my main goal. I want to make good citizens. If children hear good music from the day they are born and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They have a beautiful heart.
We have a country full of accomplished musicians and music teachers. Why don’t these people provide our national music program? Primary teachers in Ireland continue to be left in the uncomfortable position of being required to teach a subject in which they have little knowledge.
Primary school teachers feel ill-prepared to give music lessons, and the subject causes them feelings of anxiety due to their lack of expertise.
Children could benefit from a much more holistic experience if the subject was taught by music teachers. This is the biggest difference I found when we compared the American model of music education to ours. Here in the United States, it is the norm that where music is taught in a school, it is done by a qualified music teacher.
I discussed and debated the idea of formal music education and how it should be delivered with a wide range of artists, teachers, administrators, activists and stakeholders. Although there are differing opinions on how music should be taught, there is no doubt that it should be accessible to everyone.
Changes in access to music education are due to people like Weston Sprott, dean of the preparatory division of the Juilliard School. Sprott oversees the Music Advancement Program which recently received $50 million to target racial disparities in music. Sprott, who is African-American, said, “Classical music can’t be the best it can be without these young people that we bring into our programs.”
Now let’s look a little closer to home. Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland all provide music education that most Irish students can only dream of. In Switzerland, a law was passed in 2014 in favor of providing music education including instrumental lessons to all children, following a referendum. This right is enshrined in Article 67a of the Swiss Constitution.
The difficulty we face today is that those who have access to music education, and specifically instrumental music education, are generally middle to upper class and have no difficulty with the status quo. . There has been no pressure on successive governments to make changes.
How often do we hear people say “I would like to learn to play an instrument”? We need a strong and coordinated public campaign to ensure that every child in Ireland can access the life-changing benefits of music education. Few politicians will argue with this, but public apathy equals political apathy.
Grace Tallon is executive director of the Newpark Academy of Music