On Tuesday evening I was one of several hundred parents, family members and other supporters who were privileged to spend a little under two hours listening to the incredible pool of musical talent that is collectively the Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra and Youth Choir. These young people (aged between about 15 and 21) performed a programme of mainly popular (but including some less well-known) Christmas music to an incredibly high standard. It was an uplifting experience for all of us who were lucky enough to be there listening – and judging by the looks of pride and pleasure on the faces of the performers as they made their way out of City Hall, they had a pretty good time too!
My daughter is a flautist and this is her first year in the County Youth Orchestra, having ‘come through the ranks’ of the Junior Schools’ Orchestra and Wind Band, the Transitional Orchestra and the High Schools’ Orchestra, with a minor flirtation with the Jazz Ensemble along the way. It has been amazing to watch her progress through these various groups, and the confidence with which she now approaches complex pieces (including an extended solo performance in a recent School presentation of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.4). Of course, she has put in hours of personal practice and attended one-to-one lessons with private teachers during this time as well, but her involvement in the County Ensembles has provided an exposure to a wide range of musical styles and provided opportunities to play in venues including Cardiff City Hall, St David’s Hall, and the Millennium Centre – all experiences that would not have been possible otherwise. Collectively, her exposure to music in all these forms has fuelled a passion that will stay with her for the rest of her life, and is likely to lead to a career in some form of music performance/teaching/writing
However, there is a dark cloud hanging over the future provision of publicly supported music provision in Cardiff (and across the rest of the UK). Local authorities are faced with the almost impossible task of cutting costs to meet national government targets, and funding for discretionary services (including music and leisure services) is inevitably under ever increasing threat. Previous attempts to remove funding from the service in Cardiff have been deflected (http://cardiffian.jomec.co.uk/article/cuts-%C2%A3173000-cardiff-and-vale-glamorgans-music-development-fund) and the worst case scenario (full removal of support) has been avoided. However, as budgets come under even greater pressure in 2014/15 and 2015/16, it is likely that funding for music services will once again come under the spotlight
The irony is that there is compelling evidence supporting the contention that access to good quality music education from a young age has a significant positive impact on learning in all subjects (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/12/music-lessons-early-childhood-brain-performance); as well as positively impacting on those higher level cognitive skills that are now essential for employees in a digital economy (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/musicians-spot-mistakes-more-quickly-and-more-accurately-than-nonmusicians-8849068.html). The educational and economic arguments in favour of protecting music service funding as part of a modern education system are powerful and persuasive. The challenge now is to make sure that politicians locally and nationally are fully aware of them when the time comes to wield the budgetary knife
This week has been dominated by coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela after a long illness. Tributes have been fulsome, worldwide, and totally deserved. As an example of the power of forgiveness, reconciliation and positivity, it is unlikely that we will ever see Mandela’s equal. It is to his eternal credit that Mandela managed to achieve the trick of being both ordinary and extraordinary. He was able to maintain a ‘common touch’ that allowed him to remain as a kind of social glue, holding together the emerging, post-apartheid civic society of South Africa even after he had resigned from all formal positions of power and influence. His primary focus – his driving force – was social justice and the achievement of a free and fair society for the people of the country that he loved. His extraordinariness stems from the fact that he held to this vision through decades in prison and in spite of the abuse that he suffered throughout that time at the hands of the apartheid regime. In an interview in 1994, Mandela was asked about his attitude towards death. His response was typical of his approach to life : “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity”
Mandela’s legacy will be the standard that he has set against which all future world leaders will be measured. It would be great to think that in the future, the walls of the Oval Office, of 10 Downing Street, of the Kremlin, and the Great Hall in Tiananmen Square, will be graced by a portrait of Mandela and the words : “What would Nelson do?”
It’s probably a naive vision, but at the very least I hope that the thought crosses the minds of the UK’s Members of Parliament when they consider a proposal from the independent panel on their pay and conditions that their basis salary should increase by 11% this year. To be clear, my objection to this is not because I think MPs are overpaid (they’re probably not, given the responsibilities that they carry). However, to accept such a large rise at this time – when the people that they have been elected to serve have seen real-terms salary reductions for two years and are faced with the prospect of (at best) inflation-equalling rises for the next 3 to 5 years – would be to send out completely the wrong message to the population as a whole. The excuses have already started to come out : we need to pay well to encourage people from all walks of life to present themselves for election (a claim already roundly rebuffed by MP Owen Jones); and this is an independent process that operates beyond the influence of party politics and government (technically correct, but ultimately it is still for Parliament to decide whether or not to implement the recommendations)
So – let’s make this the first application of the WWND test in the UK. What about it, MPs – What Would Nelson Do?