Nicola Benedetti, über-violinist and passionate advocate of music education, has said children should be exposed to classical music whether they like it or not. She argues that parents and teachers should be unafraid to be unpopular with their kids by forcing them to listen to core classical music, and makes the (fair) point that when it comes to maths, science, history and English, our kids are simply told what they are studying, but with music there is often a hesitation to offer genres which may not meet with the students’ approval.
The problem with this is that, like those dreaded scales, there is nothing more guaranteed to put a child off classical music than having it forced upon them. I was dragged to a four-hour opera when I was eight because it was felt to be a sensible thing to do and, you know, Mozart makes us smarter (what a crock).
It has taken me 30 years to undo the damage and start to love opera. Music isn’t something to be taught in the same way as fractions or the Ottoman Empire. Do any of us delight in algebra or shiver with joy discussing photosynthesis down the pub because we learned about these things 20 years ago at school? Classical music is something that simply has to be properly presented, and, if there’s any small degree of enthusiasm, nurtured and encouraged.
Having said all this, there is one thing alone that teenagers adore more than anything else (well, two things perhaps, but this is a family newspaper website), and that is music. There is more snobbery among teens about which band is better than anything you’ll hear from the tuxedoed bores at Covent Garden, there is a passion and excitement about gigs, riffs, lyrics and melodies that rivals football and the latest Apple products.
Classical music is the root of the music our children worship, and it falls to parents and teachers to rise to the challenge of how best to present it in a way that will engender interest and enthusiasm. It is in no way a black mark against our children that most of them don’t get on with classical music. It is, however, very much an indictment of the classical music industry, musicians, music teachers, politicians and parents, and it falls to us to change this.
A good start would be for Nicky Morgan to spend a portion of the next five years providing a decent budget, proper teacher training and ensuring Ofsted and the Arts Council step up to the plate and give music teachers the tools and space they desperately need to do their job effectively.
We must celebrate and grow the amazing education and outreach work our orchestras do, and offer more than the cursory one- or two-day music training primary school teachers can expect to get during a year-long PGCE to give them the confidence to aim higher during music classes.
Read more on the Guardian website