The Slow Death of Classical Music

Around a month ago, it was announced that funding would be significantly cut for musical activities outside school in the UK, foremost among which are instrumental music lessons and county orchestras. The result of this stinginess is that classical music can surely only become less accessible to the UK’s youngsters.

From my tone, you can probably guess that I don’t approve of this. In fact, the only thing that  could probably be worse is no funding whatsoever. As extra-curricular activities go, learning a musical instrument is not exactly cheap. The actual lessons usually cost at least £20 per hour. That’s roughly £600-700 per year, based on a one-hour lesson per week during the school term. Then there’s the cost of the actual instrument. 

The violin is one of the most popular instruments amongst school children, yet even the most basic instrument will cost £90. Hiring instruments has long been a solution to this, but even that may change soon: the cuts in funding will mean that the UK’s Music Education Hubs have to find other ways to make money, and increasing the charge for instrument hire may be an avenue which they choose to take. A flute suitable for beginner players will cost around £120. A beginner alto saxophone will come in at around £290, an entry level piano at over £300. That’s not the worst of it. The Howarth Junior Oboe, a beginner’s model, will set you back £925, and Howarth’s entry level bassoon is an eye-watering £2395. A quick check on AutoTrader will tell you that you can get a used BMW 3 series for less. 

Enough of number-crunching. The cost of instrumental music lessons is clearly very high, and this contributes to any inaccessibility. Here, I must admit that my view is slightly blinkered. As a result of spending eleven years at private schools, I’ve always been in an environment where there have been plenty of musical opportunities, and very positively, plenty of people taking them. I really don’t know whether the same level of opportunities exists in state school, but I do hope it does. What is apparent is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for those who are less fortunate to have sustained engagement in musical activities without some help from the government. It’s not as if these activities are utterly useless either: I’ve probably gained more from extra-curricular music than from some minor qualifications that I’ve taken. 

I think there’s one more problem. Classical music isn’t exactly popular amongst young people in the UK. It’s just not cool. Learning to play the piano, saxophone or guitar is fairly commonplace as they all have their uses in modern music too. But very few children grow up wanting to play the viola. If there isn’t demand for something, nobody will want to supply it. 

At this point, I can only hope that the government reconsiders its decision to make these cuts. Musical education should be something that is accessible for everyone. It is no lesser discipline that can be left aside to rot. 

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