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Leading composer writing opera with Norfolk pupils slams 'shortsighted' cuts to music education

PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:11 27 March 2019

Pupils at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Pupils at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

A leading British composer has stressed the importance of sustaining music education for the next generation during a series of workshops with pupils in Norfolk.

Clarinettist Rachel Coe at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodClarinettist Rachel Coe at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Patrick Hawes, right, composer of The Great War Symphony, spent 16 years as a music teacher before dedicating himself to producing musical works – the latest of which is being written in collaboration with schoolchildren.

But he said music as a subject is often overlooked despite its numerous benefits.

“I have seen first-hand the role that music can play in children’s lives if they have those facilities available,” he said.

“I am alarmed at the news that funding for music in schools has been cut back. I think it is very shortsighted; those who are cutting back must have little sense of the benefits music can give.

Patrick Hawes at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodPatrick Hawes at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

“It is not just that you leave musical talent untapped, it is the way in which music education reaches beyond music itself and allows children to grow in confidence.”

Mr Hawes’ first children’s opera, A King’s Ransom, premiered at Open in Norwich last year following months of collaboration with schools in Norfolk.

For his next operatic work, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, he and arts organisation Into Opera are working with pupils at Sprowston Junior, Heartsease Primary, St Mary and St Peter Catholic Primary in Gorleston and St George’s Primary in Great Yarmouth.

“We chose schools where we feel we have the support of the staff, those that would go the extra mile to make sure we had enough rehearsals,” he said.

Lizzie Holmes, Opera Singer, at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodLizzie Holmes, Opera Singer, at the Into Opera workshop, Sprowston Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Mr Hawes, along with conductor John Andrews, opera singer Lizzie Holmes, clarinettist Rachel Coe and stage director and librettist Genevieve Raghu, ran workshops with children from the schools on Tuesday giving them the chance to sing and compose as well as listen to the performers.

Ms Raghu said the story by Ursula Moray Williams – which she read with her mother as a child – lent itself well to performance.

“Gobbolino goes on a lot of different adventures which for a child’s attention span is perfect.

“Fundamental to the creation process for me was involving young people from the very beginning. We want this opera to reach a family audience and it was really key for us to see the book, which was written in the 40s, through the eyes of young people today,” she said.

Analysis: The state of music education

Music education in Norfolk’s schools is at a crossroads.

As school budgets are made to stretch ever further, with teacher pay rises on the horizon and schools now even plugging gaps left by welfare cuts, many are having to make difficult decisions about the education they offer to pupils.

When you’re struggling to put textbooks on the shelves, a resource-heavy subject like music may seem an easy place to trim fat.

But the situation is becoming far more dire than a few fewer recorders in the instrument cupboard.

A study by Sussex University published last year found that the number of schools offering music A-level had fallen by more than 15pc in the preceding two years, while the number of students starting a music GCSE course had fallen by 10pc since 2016.

The survey of 500 schools in England also found that music was a compulsory subject for 13 to 14-year-olds in less than half (47pc) of secondary schools, compared with 84pc of schools in 2012/13.

Of the schools polled 18pc did not offer GCSE music, while almost six in 10 thought the government’s promotion of the English baccalaureate (Ebacc) suite of subjects at GCSE level – English, maths, a language, science and history or geography – was having a negative impact on music studies.

Musicians from Norfolk Music Hub perform at Charles Darwin Primary in Norwich as part of Live Music Week. Picture: SUPPLIEDMusicians from Norfolk Music Hub perform at Charles Darwin Primary in Norwich as part of Live Music Week. Picture: SUPPLIED

The report’s author Duncan Mackrill said music education was in a precarious position in many schools.

“Without a change to require a balanced curriculum in all schools, we are in danger of music education becoming, in many cases, the preserve of those who can pay,” he said.

Separate figures from the Education Data Lab show that the number of students taking a music GCSE in England dropped by 19pc between 2015 and 2018.

Those who are passionate about music education often wear their heart on their sleeve – but that passion is backed up by evidence that participating in music can assist children’s cognitive and social development and improve teamworking skills.

Rehersals at Snape Maltings concert hall for the Suffolk Schools Music Project 2019. Picture: Sonya DuncanRehersals at Snape Maltings concert hall for the Suffolk Schools Music Project 2019. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Through a series of articles in the Eastern Daily Press I will speak to schools and organisations in Norfolk which are helping to give children a better music education – particularly those for whom disadvantage or costs may be a barrier – and fighting to keep arts high on the educational agenda.

What the government says

The Department for Education (DfE) says it is putting more money into arts education programmes than any other subject apart from PE.

Nearly £500m has been allocated for musical and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020 in addition to funding given to schools to deliver their curriculum.

In response to the government’s National Plan for Music Education in 2011 the DfE set up the music hubs programme in 2012, through which local authorities, community and art organisations and schools work together to provide music education provision.

Analysis showed more than 700,000 children learnt to play instruments in class in 2016/17 through the programme.

A DfE spokesman added: “We are currently working with music groups and practitioners to refresh the national plan for music education and develop a high-quality model music curriculum.”

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