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