Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Layer 424 . . . The Importance of Good Music, Alex Salmond's Discs, and the Coalition's Cuts to Music Education

I've always had the greatest respect for Alex Salmond as a politician who's both a socialist and an anti-monarchist, but his choice of music to take to a desert island was both horrendous and laughable.

Now, I know I've got my prejudices - towards blues, rock and roots music - but how can anyone bear to listen to Alex's appallingly parochial and downright sentimental selections?

I would ask you to click on this link and read these lyrics:

And I rest my case - without even asking you to listen to the actual tune, to the voices of the performers - or having you hurt your eyes on these saddos.

Truly horrible nonsense. If anyone does click on this video I'd be interested to know how many seconds it took before you decided you couldn't stand it any more - not even out of appalled fascination. Obviously I don't mean those of you who are family and friends of these guys, and I don't mean Scottish people or maybe even Celts - who might be expected to stand by their fellows out of sheer loyalty, if not pity.

What would anyone need to do to this video and this song in order to turn it into a anti-Scottish satire? Nothing at all.

Am I anti-Scottish? No. Am I anti-Proclaimers? Let's just say I don't know these guys in an way other than by their music - and I barely even know that. They may well be fine human beings. Unfortunately, these one-hit wonders had a hit with an appalling piece of romanticised rubbish, and it's hard to imagine the rest of their stuff could be in any way worth listening to.

Music is incredibly important to billions of human beings, and has many positive functions. All of us should talk about music, share music and debate our musical tastes and preferences all of the time. We need to open our minds, our spirits and our souls to music.

One of my missions in life is to promote and share what I think is great music. Another intention is to challenge the kind of musical elitism which maintains that classical music is the only form of music that can be seen as truly great. To that end I'll continue to say that the vast majority of classical music is boring, repetitious, dreary and not worth listening to.

Here's the full list of Alex the ex-choirboy's painful picks:

Johnny Cash, apparently, was "a devout but troubled Christian", and a "lens through which to view American contradictions and challenges." "A Biblical scholar, he penned a Christian novel entitled Man in White, and he made a spoken word recording of the entire New King James Version of the New Testament." Can't wait to hear that.

Only in America. And maybe Scotland.


Behind the music: Why music education cuts could be a dumb move

The coalition government clearly sees music lessons as a luxury we can do without. But evidence suggests music can be beneficial to both overall academic performance and wellbeing

The first things to go when there are governmental budget cuts are "luxuries" such as arts funding. Education secretary Michael Gove's decision to declare music students ineligible for the new English baccalaureate certificate sends the message that music education is another luxury we can live without. As does cutting the £82.5m a year in funding specifically aimed at providing music education – not to mention the news that one in four councils have already issued redundancies for music teachers.

What these decisions appear to ignore are the overall benefits music lessons provide to children and teenagers. Growing up in Sweden, I went to a music school that provided regular academic education with extra lessons in music and choral singing. The school, called Adolf Fredriks Music Skola, was free of charge, and the students – from age 10 to 19 – were accepted through auditions. At the time, it was the only school of its kind in the country. What's interesting is that the school regularly came top for average grades of all subjects. As there is no proof that musicians are cleverer or more academic than others, there must be another reason for these results.

First of all, there was less truancy: if you cut class you would also lose out on music-making at school. Singing together created a sense of community and connection between students, making school something students looked forward to instead of dreaded. There's also been evidence that learning an instrument can improve numeracy and literacy skills in young people, as well as behaviour.

A friend of mine told me about a London scheme in which he'd taught music programming and recording to teenagers in a studio made available through government funding. The young people had been placed on the scheme after being deemed "problem students" due to their high rates of absenteeism. The change in their behaviour was palpable, according to my friend. It was as if creating music brought out a sense of purpose and self-worth that had previously been absent.

Music lessons shouldn't be seen as an optional extra for students who desire a career in the field (just as sport in school isn't just for children aiming to be professional athletes). The majority of my fellow students at Adolf Fredriks did not become musicians, nor did they desire to.

Judging by the comments on my recent Comment is Free blog, about how listening to great music makes the brain produce dopamine, it's clear that music is a great source of passion, joy and wellbeing (in fact, just reading the comments made me feel good). Part of the point of music education is for children to be exposed to music they wouldn't normally come across.

When cuts to libraries were announced last year, writers such as Philip Pullman, Kate Moss and Will Self publicly fought the decision. Why haven't famous British musicians done the same?


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