I rarely write about government decisions (or anything political!), as it’s just not my style, but earlier this week I was most upset to read about this government’s proposal to make English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects compulsory for all secondary school students in the UK.
Students must apparently study English, maths, a science, a language and a humanities subject (defined as geography or history). Since the government tried to introduce the EBacc as a school league table in 2011, the number of pupils studying arts subjects, including music, has declined. This proposal will simply further discourage pupils from studying any arts subjects, as they will be deemed unnecessary.
Musicians, writers and educators have written prolifically about the benefits of studying music and learning a musical instrument, and there’s ample evidence to illustrate that those benefits go way beyond the study of music. We wonder why so few children can actually read, understand or enjoy classical music? We wonder why our concert halls are increasingly empty? We wonder why we have so few competitors participating at top levels in international piano competitions?
I’ve seen the results of a totally different approach to music education, having examined and adjudicated in the Far East. In this part of the world, music festivals and exam centres are teeming with youngsters who play to very high standards, and who regard playing and learning music as a crucial part of their education. As a result, concert halls are full, classical music is revered, and a large majority can read music as part of a fully rounded education.
How about really changing our attitudes towards music education? It’s about time we viewed it as a highly important tool in our educational box. Pianist James Rhodes (you can follow him on Twitter @JRhodesPianist and #dontstopthemusic) is highlighting this issue, asking everyone who cares about the arts to sign a petition. Please do so. You can read more and sign it here. Thank you. Otherwise classical music will be consigned to a distant memory. Alternatively, the ISM are also running a similar petition and you can sign here. I’ve signed both.
On a happier note, (and constantly highlighting music education as much as I can!) composer and publisher Elena Cobb and I gave two workshops earlier this week at Yamaha Music London. It was our first London-based venture and we were delighted to have such great attendance and a lovely audience too.
Elena publishes a whole range of educational piano music (EVC Music Publications) featuring a variety of composers. Marcel Zidani is one such composer, and he joined us, performing one of his pieces at the beginning of the event, speaking eloquently about his works, which provided an interesting introduction.
Elena’s practical workshop focused on how to teach improvisation and was packed with great tips and ideas, as well as a live session with several musicians and pupils, showing everyone how it’s done, thus hopefully inspiring those for whom jazz is an enigma. She is passionate about improvisation, what with her highly popular Higgledy Piggledy Jazz Series.
My presentation focused on three elements I consider important, yet which are sometimes neglected in piano lessons: memorisation, sight-reading and crucially, tension in piano playing. I merely touched on all three topics within the hour’s workshop, but was so pleased (and grateful) to two audience members who so kindly volunteered to be part of my practical workshop! I will be speaking further about these elements at a Jackdaws weekend in October, which will include many more ideas on these subjects.
Our next event will take place in November, so stay tuned! Here are a few photos…
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.