Birmingham City University put out an interesting report during the week – and I can’t help but think my take on it could be a little controversial. Some of the contents from the report first – in 2019/2020, the number of students in the Midlands who opted to do Music for A Levels fell to just 1%. They also noted that independent – i.e. mostly fee paying – schools account for a hugely disproportionate number of A-Level music entrants.
I personally have no reason to doubt any of this is true. My memories from school tell me precisely this. At primary school, our music “lessons”, if they even could be called that, consisted of learning to play the recorder. It’s a horrid instrument that makes a horrid noise. And after that, we learnt to play a horrid tune with the aforementioned horrid instrument. All in all, it was just horrid.
At secondary school, a new level of pointlessness was achieved. I still remember my first music lesson at secondary – I was sat at a table with a little synthesiser on it. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but I was excited at the prospect of being able to learn to do something with this thing. But as the term went on, it quickly became apparent these things were there for show. We were barely allowed to use them, and even when we were, we were never shown how they worked.
Learning about chords? Musical theory? Arrangement? Forget it. There was no chance of doing anything like this. I can honestly say my music lessons in school were a complete waste of time. I don’t even remember anything that I did – and I can remember at least something from every other subject I did.
So if music education is still like this, frankly, I can’t help but think it deserves to die out. The only ones who used to know anything about playing an instrument were the ones who had private lessons – there was no chance for the rest of us.
The trouble with that is it just allows the independent schools to take over entirely – and thus the world of music becomes even more elitist and snobby than it already is. What a mess…