An elderly actor once told me she was hanging on to life only because she wanted to be here when Arts Council England (ACE) collapsed. She didn’t make it, but she would have been furious this week because it has been decided not to fund the Music Venue Trust, which supports small live music venues.
Not that ACE doesn’t fund music. It does, but mainly the grander sort – opera and classical music, which get 85% of its money. Lovely that it cares about “high” culture, but perhaps it hasn’t quite understood that music should be for everyone – “high” and “low” – to hear and to play, and keep us sane.
Last week, I heard that Harriet Harman is to become chair of Trinity Laban Conservatoire, where she hopes to ensure that music and dance should not be just “something for the upper classes”, but also for the “disadvantaged”. Marvellous. But she’ll be lucky. Because where are these “disadvantaged” students going to come from? Music in secondary schools is on the way to extinction, helped there by cuts and the English Baccalaureate. Our government is even more clueless about music than ACE.
Remember the lovely old pre-Sats days and all those peripatetic instrumental teachers? I do because I was one. Children would leave their classes – yes, leave their classes – and come and learn the flute, or whatever, for 20 minutes. Free. Instrument loaned by the school. Free. Then any child could play in orchestras, bands and concerts. Happy days.
Some still can, but if they do make it, there will be nowhere left for the “low” ones to play. I almost despair of music in this country. Most contemporary classical music has rather gone up its own plinkety-plonky, inaccessible, academic bottom, and last week Andrew Lloyd Webber – lord of wambly, mainly forgettable or baby tunes – has just collected a lifetime achievement award. Is he the best we can do? Surely not. Imagine how many more talented musicians there would be if everyone had a fair chance. Music should be the most, not the least, important subject in schools. I have said it before, I’ll say it again, and again, and again …