Children in East Sussex deserve a music service
Ros Donald reports
Wooden sounds and smells echoed and deadened. Chairs thumped on worn parquet.
‘Cellos vibrated woodily as their metal spike was quickly deployed. We learned rhythms by beating the body of the instrument like a drum. Warm scents: rosin, the green or amber resin string players rub on their bows to create purchase on the strings and enliven the sound, different kinds of wood polish and lacquer on floors and instruments.
My ‘cello stands reproachfully in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. But the sensory memories of my lessons with East Sussex County Music Service are so strong they are like time travel. I started learning the ‘cello at eight years old after I saw my future teacher, the kind and inspirational Mrs. Akam, demonstrate it in school assembly. I knew I wanted to do what she could do.
Playing the ‘cello opened the world to me. Before I began to play, I was doing badly at school, and so withdrawn I barely spoke. I was the girl everyone laughed at. Frankly, that didn’t change after I started ‘cello, but my confidence grew. I made friends; I got my first Valentine’s card from someone who wasn’t my Dad; there was something I was good at. I can still hum the ‘cello parts to orchestral pieces like Holst’s Planets suite – it really confuses people.
East Sussex Music Service, that wondrous organisation, has offered cheap music lessons, access to choirs, big bands and orchestras, and instrument hire to all school-age children for 84 years. Today, it costs £97 per school term to send a child to group lessons, discounted by up to 85% for eligible families.
The Music Service gives young people a safe place to go. Music helped my friends deal with tough home lives, bullying, bereavement and depression. Mostly, though, going to lessons and practice is just really fun. It connects talented young people to opportunity.
East Sussex’s music teachers have opened worlds up to generations of children for a fraction of the price of private lessons. Students play in church halls and the Royal Festival Hall, in other counties and in other countries.
East Sussex County Council met on Monday 30 April to consult on drawing up a proposal to close the instrumental teaching part of the East Sussex Music Service, which proposal would mean it will no longer provide small group and individual instrumental lessons. If the proposal were to proceed, the Service could still exist to run music centres for bands, groups, orchestras, choirs and otherwise to provide for advanced performers. But I’m not sure how young players are supposed to get to advanced status without effective tuition.
This proposal is being considered to cover an £80,000 shortfall for a Music Service that is one of the best in the country. Compared to everything it brings to the county, all the people it has helped and furthered, this is so little money. East Sussex Music Service is an expression of confidence in the futures of young people that makes me so proud. If it goes, the county won’t be £80,000 richer; it’ll lose infinitely more.
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