For the past few years, much ink, both on paper and in the virtual world, has been spilled on discussions about the decline of music education in schools today. The sources vary from suggesting that music is becoming extinct in schools, which some commentators link to the introduction of the EBacc, to a more moderate notion that take up is simply in decline.
Statistics and the Job Industry
Regardless of the statistics you choose to believe, the fact remains that, certainly for the statistician, take up of music both as an academic subject or via instrumental lessons is on the decline. Balanced against this, much effort is being put into encouraging children to study sciences and technology.
The main argument is usually based around job creation and the availability of well paid positions and options for children after school or university. This is then also put against the increasing cost of music tuition for an ever decreasing number of pupils. Ultimately it’s a downward spiral and it is very difficult to see how this might be turned around.
Music in School
However, this isn’t really new. I remember when I was at school, Music GCSE was offered but was timetabled as a ‘Wednesday afternoon activity’ rather than a core subject. For me, this was great news because it clashed on the timetable with the option of being in the CCF. It turned out that studying music GCSE meant you were in a nice warm classroom and because it was technically an ‘activity’ then often biscuits were available! This fact alone sold me on the music route. I went on to study A level (in a class of 6) and then onto a music course at University.
But if you take the argument of encouraging more people into Science and Technology with a view to the type of jobs being available when they leave full time education, there is a bit of a problem. In a few years time, most jobs will be taken over by robots and other forms of Artificial Intelligence. This means millions of people could be either out of a job or, more likely, working fewer hours. The net result of this is that people have more free time.
Music as a Hobby
Turning this argument around again, one of the most popular free time activities in the UK outside of sport is being in a choir. Of course, choirs come in many forms and sizes nowadays and a lot do not require you to be formally auditioned or have any understanding of music. Nevertheless, if in the future we are all going to have much more time for hobbies, then here we have an argument for studying music in school. Learning an instrument can also lead to opportunities to play in small groups and bands. Aside of the discipline and social aspect to these activities, music can become a very enjoyable hobby later in life.
If schools do not provide the initial impetus for people to engage in music by learning an instrument or discovering their singing voice, many will never come across this life enhancing opportunities. The wider concern is that classical music in particular, will become an elitist activity and only open to those who can afford it.
Jules Addison is a Professional Musician and works with 4 Part Music as a Sound Engineer and Producer.