Music schools attacked

October 4, 2002

University music schools and traditional conservatoires, the gatekeepers to the world of classical music, have been told to open their doors to black and Asian students from Britain's inner cities.

A report backed by leading figures from the arts, including conductor Sir Simon Rattle, has found that white students dominate top-flight training for professional musicians. The most prestigious schools, such as the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College, are particularly "challenged", with overseas students their main source of diversity.

"UK minority ethnic students are significantly underrepresented on music courses in the higher education and teacher training sectors," says Creating a Land with Music , which was commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and launched this week by the government-backed charity Youth Music.

It recommends a wholesale shake-up of music training, arguing that leading schools need to introduce business studies, communication skills and a knowledge of the commercial and contemporary music scene into the curriculum, alongside purely instrumental skills.

Even top-flight musicians are now forced to make a living from a portfolio of activities, including teaching, session work and composition. Traditional concert-hall work is increasingly hard to come by, and nine out of ten musicians are freelance.

Written with the help of Sir Christopher Frayling, rector of the Royal College of Art, concert pianist Joanna MacGregor and Sir Simon, now conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, the report was launched at a Youth Music conference on Monday.

The audience of teachers and administrators was told that a shortage of music teachers was restricting participation to a privileged few, and endangering the future of classical music in Britain. The report urges music schools to encourage their graduates to teach.

George Odam, head of research at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, said that the conservatoires were making significant efforts to be more diverse, but that they could work only with children who had been playing instruments from an early age.

Errollyn Wallen, a modern composer and one of the report's authors, told the conference that many children from poorer backgrounds never got a chance to play.

"I know of five-year-olds who have half an hour of music a week. That's rubbish," she said. "Children aren't being exposed to music. I grew up in Tottenham when we had peripatetic teachers and I could borrow a violin. We're in a crisis now."

Creating a Land with Music , the work, education and training of professional musicians in the 21st century is available from Youth Music, 1 America Street, London SE1 ONE (0207 902 1060) or on its website at

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