Today’s guest post has been penned by Julian Lloyd Webber, who turns 70 today. A musician needing no introduction, I am honoured to feature Julian’s work here on my blog. This renowned ‘cellist has also become a beacon for music education, and, as the following article testifies, he has worked, and continues to work, tirelessly to ensure young people have the opportunity to study and enjoy music, irrespective of their background. In this post, Julian writes about his fascinating journey into the world of music education.
In order to commemorate this special occasion, Julian has issued a new recording, The Singing Strad (Decca), the cover of which is pictured below. Released on April 9th 2021, The Singing Strad is a collection of ‘cello favourites featuring his most celebrated recordings spanning over two-decades.
I’d like to wish Julian a very Happy 70th Birthday.
Edward Elgar once said, “It costs you nothing to wear your own nose” and if, as musicians, we truly believe that music can empower young people, it becomes our duty to speak out about it whenever possible.
My first public intervention into the music education debate came in 2003. It was a low-point for the teaching of music in British schools and many musicians were talking about it, mostly amongst ourselves. I happened to share the same manager as Evelyn Glennie and James Galway and the three of us became good friends. We decided that something had to be done and – together with the film composer Michael Kamen – we formed the Music Education Consortium with the sole purpose of challenging the UK government to provide music education for every child. We met with government ministers who, while acknowledging the problem, produced a Music Manifesto filled with good intentions but no money to back it up. So we continued to badger the government of the day until, in 2007, a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown resulted in an unprecedented infusion of £332 million ring-fenced for music education. This may have sounded easy, but it was the result of four years of painstaking ‘persuasion’!
2007 also brought the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra to the Proms. By chance I attended the concert and, along with everyone else in the Royal Albert Hall, I was ‘blown away’ by the infectious enthusiasm and brilliant playing of the young Venezuelans, many of whom came from severely disadvantaged backgrounds. Also by chance I found myself sitting next to The Observer’s Arts Correspondent, Vanessa Thorpe. “We should be doing this here” I said. “I agree” she replied, “do you want to do an interview about it”? True to her word, the following Sunday a full-page feature carrying the eye-catching headline ‘UK shamed by music’s elitist label’ resulted in an invitation from the then Schools’ Minister, Andrew Adonis, to discuss what might be done. I stressed that classical music was increasingly being perceived as something only for children whose parents could afford to pay for expensive instruments and tuition. I agreed to Chair a new government ‘pilot’ programme, based on Venezuela’s El Sistema, whereby every child in schools explicitly chosen from some of most deprived inner-city areas in England would receive free instruments and music tuition. Following an extensive selection process In Harmony began in Liverpool, Lambeth and Norwich and, to quote the 2011 Henley Review of Music Education, ‘There is no doubt that the In Harmony projects have delivered life-changing experiences for the children involved’. In July 2011, El Sistema’s founder, José Antonio Abreu, recognised In Harmony as part of the El Sistema worldwide network and, fourteen years from its inception, In Harmony continues to broaden horizons in six English schools.
Music is such an exacting profession that it is all-too-easy to become consumed by its demands and to remain ‘head down’ in a surfeit of practise, divorced from the world around us. But if we want our children to experience the joys of music, musicians will need to find the time and the courage to make the case for it. I applaud the increasing tendency of such leading soloists as the violinists Nicola Benedetti and Tasmin Little and the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason to speak out. Music is important enough to make a noise about!
You can find out more about The Singing Strad and purchase your copy, here.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious 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.