What Britain can learn from Latvia’s incredible music education system



This focus on singing is at the heart of the Latvian education system. There is nothing eccentric about it: the great music teacher Zoltán Kodály insisted that no child should start instrument lessons until they have a solid understanding of the basics of music by the song. It roots a feeling for music in the one instrument we all own, which makes it inherently democratic and communal.

Most importantly, music education is universally available. The country has a network of more than 150 schools specializing in arts and music, which operate in the afternoons after the end of the normal school day at 2 p.m. Music schools constitute by far the largest proportion of them. This means that every child, no matter where they live in the country, can receive a good musical education over a period of several years, up to the age of 18. Singing is at the heart of it all, with every child no matter what. their specialty, join one of the school’s choirs and take private lessons. About 17 percent of all Latvians attended, an incredibly high proportion.
“You have to audition to enter, and if you are successful, the education is free, with just a little extra for others,” says Liepiņš, “and once you are there, there is a suitable program, with hearing training and history choir and ensemble lessons and rehearsals I was supposed to have two piano lessons a week, but my teacher could tell I was talented, so I had a lot more than that.

But the system is not perfect. It is extremely expensive, consuming a third of the budget of the Ministry of Culture as well as the funding of the Ministry of Education and municipal governments. Nauris Puntulis, the Minister of Culture, told me that the population is decreasing in rural areas of Latvia, which makes it difficult and even more expensive to access quality music education in these areas. And Latvia cannot be totally isolated from the cultural policy that makes music education such a controversial topic elsewhere in the world, especially in the UK. Until now, the Latvian music education system has been dominated by classical music and Latvian folk song, but now there are concessions (some might say essential) to expand the musical range to include popular music and folk music. jazz.

We feel that the Latvians are engaged in a delicate balancing act; adjusting their world beat system to reflect today’s realities, while keeping their faith in music as an expression of nation and social solidarity more generally. As Baiba Braže told me: “It’s about keeping people away from their computer screens, and also about creating a sense of belonging to the nation through music. These good things are no less urgent in the UK.

The Riga Jurmula festival continues until September 5. riga-jurmala.com

What changes would you like to see in the UK music education system?


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