Music education at crisis point for Britain’s next generation of musicians, says new consortium

Four of the UK’s most innovative access-to-music organisations have come together to issue a stark warning to the government about the crisis facing young people trying to learn music in 2018 and warn that ‘without immediate action we may not find the David Bowies, Adeles, Ed Sheerans, Sheku Kanneh-Masons or Alison Balsoms of the future’.

Creative United, OHMI, Drake Music and OpenUp Music have announced a collaboration to come together for the first time to help tackle the crisis in music education, calling on the government to help at least 25,000 families over 2018-2021 and to provide musical instruments for both disabled and non-disabled children and young people across the country.

The new collaboration was officially announced by the consortium at a celebration event at Bush Hall in London on 12 March 2018 to mark the 10th anniversary of ‘Take it away’, the Arts Council of England-backed scheme from Creative United which provides interest-free loans for the purchase of musical instruments.

Andrew Miller, the Government’s Disability Champion for the Arts and Culture Sector, said:

‘I fully recognise the need to support young disabled talent at every step of their careers in music. The classical music sector has undoubtedly been slow in demonstrating support for disabled people wishing to enter the profession. I therefore welcome this collaborative initiative as a positive step forward to inclusion.’

Andrew Miller, Disability Champion for the Arts © Jonathan Lappin
Andrew Miller, Disability Champion for the Arts, speaking at the Take it away 10th anniversary celebration © Jonathan Lappin

The group aims to make musical instruments more widely available to aspiring young musicians across the UK, and particularly to disabled people for whom playing a conventional musical instrument may be difficult or impossible. The Take it away scheme has already helped over 90,000 families and individuals gain access to instruments through the provision of £63m of interest free loans in the last 10 years.

Average wages and disposable incomes in the UK have remained stagnant in recent years, meaning young people are being increasingly priced out of, or for disabled people, not included in, music education. Recent figures from the Incorporated Society of Musicians show that the average hourly cost of private tuition is now £31 across the UK, or £40 in central London. Including the instrument itself, that means the cost of fully learning an instrument can be around £30-40,000.

The cost of inventing and building new instruments and accessible musical technology to take away disabling barriers can cost as little as a few hundred pounds, or upwards of £10,000, depending on what the musician wants and needs. For example, a flute adapted so it can be played with one hand can cost around £5,000, and a saxophone around £15,000.

With statutory music education now absent from the national curriculum in England beyond Key Stage 3, the opportunities for young people to discover and develop as musicians are increasingly scarce, with government data showing that the number of teenagers participating in music in England is now at its lowest ever level.

Mary-Alice Stack, Chief Executive of Creative United, said:

‘It’s never been harder for teenagers to become musicians and there have never been fewer of them doing it; we need the government to work with us to act now to ensure that the opportunities for young people to develop their creative talents, including the opportunity to learn and enjoy music making, is open to all.’

Carien Meijer, Chief Executive of Drake Music, said:

‘We are proud to shout about the value and importance of access to music for everyone in our society. Music of all forms enriches our lives and culture. Disabled people need a broader variety of accessible instruments to open up new avenues of musical expression. Working together on initiatives like this and innovating with new technology will lead us to a future where everyone can make music, using instruments which haven’t even been imagined yet.’

Stephen Hetherington, founder of OHMI, said:

‘In music, progress towards full access for disabled people lags far behind just about every other area of life. Creative United’s initiative in bringing together government and key organisations is a most important step forward.’

Barry Farrimond, CEO, OpenUp Music, said:

‘It’s often said that music is the universal language, but, unfortunately, a great many disabled people continue to be left out of the conversation. Music is strengthened by the diversity of those who make it and it is absolutely essential that anyone who wants to make music has the instruments and opportunities they need to enable them to progress.’

Header photo: musician, John Kelly, performing at the Take it away 10th anniversary celebration © Jonathan Lappin

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