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December 1, 2002

Classical stars rail at musical 'illiteracy'

From: Independent, UK - 1 Dec 2002

By James Morrison, Arts and Media Correspondent
01 December 2002

Four of the world's leading classical virtuosos have written to the Government voicing "grave concern" about the "marginalisation" of music teaching in schools.

The flautist Sir James Galway, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, and percussionist Evelyn Glennie, together with composer Michael Kamen, say they have identified "worryingly deficient levels of cultural literacy" in Britain's classrooms. The shortcomings, they argue, could rob children of their "cultural legacy" and deny them career opportunities in later life.

Their charge is contained in a robustly worded letter to Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, and Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, copied to Tony Blair.

It reads: "As four musicians who have forged successful international careers in the music industry, for which we owe a tremendous amount to the music education we received, we are writing to raise our grave concern about the increasing marginalisation of music, particularly classical, in primary and secondary schools. We have every support for those that teach music ... but the fact is that they are under-resourced and under-supported."

To support their argument, the musicians cite a recent Classic FM survey, first reported in The Independent on Sunday, showing that 65 per cent of six- to 14-year-olds cannot name one classical composer, and only 31 per cent know what a cello looks like.

"This illustrates worryingly deficient levels of cultural literacy, which we would argue is as important to our children's education as their ability to read, spell and add up," the letter says.

The four also criticise the media. "We do not underestimate the role that TV companies and the media in general are failing to play in bringing cultural diversity to our children and we are writing to them separately on this," they say. "But in a nutshell, lack of classical music education, followed by invisibility on our TV screens, adds up to a lose/lose situation for young people." The letter concludes by suggesting that ministers address the apparent lack of interest in classical music by integrating it with other subjects such as history and English literature.

Ms Glennie, the world-renowned Scots percussionist, who has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12, said her main concern was that children no longer "relate" to classical music. "I think we have to look at what today's youngsters are being soaked in culturally. Can they any longer pick up a pen and write a letter? Programmes like Pop Idol are getting massive viewing figures, and children are going to all the concerts and buying the records, but this isn't happening with classical music. We have to understand why that is." Criticising the classical-music industry's over-reliance on such glamorous "crossover" acts as Bond and the Opera Babes, she added: "I am not a huge fan of some of the marketing that goes on. I come more from the background of wanting to see honest music making."

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that department and the Department for Education had "a manifesto commitment to provide more opportunities for primary school pupils to learn a musical instrument. We know that the teaching of music in the classroom benefits from pupils having exposure to a range of instruments, and we are looking at ways of bringing the expertise of instrumental teachers to bear upon classroom teaching".

© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd