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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

School Orchestra

The purpose in trying to encourage all school children to take up the study of an orchestral instrument seems curiously bizarre. There is no doubt that teaching children to sing and to take part in musical activities, especially at primary level, is such a good thing in that it encourages the development of speech and verbal communication, physical movement and co-ordination, teamwork, an appreciation of what music is about, and even feelings of pride and satisfaction in being part of a job well done. But it does not necessarily follow that trying to train young children in the discipline of playing an instrument is something that should be general practice in schools.

The wish to play an instrument could well be a very transient interest at an early age. It may be that once the technicalities are demonstrated and the challenging difficulties realised, a child's enthusiasm will rapidly disappear. A few -- a very few -- will somehow be infected with a mysterious impulse to master the demon. They will be driven by some form of sorcery to rise at six in the morning and put in two hours of practice (hopefully the right kind of practice) before setting out to school. This unique passion could also make them inwardly aware of high technical standards that are out there somewhere beyond their current ability, and drive them on in pursuit of them. And it will not only be the technique that causes them excitement. It will be the music. And not only one music -- but many kinds, from all ages and sources.

If the developing child has no other major interest outside the need to conquer the technical challenges of an instrument, then it could be the professional orchestra that becomes their ambitious final goal. This could be a good thing, assuming the competition is not so severe as to limit their chances of advanced study and, in due course, succeeding in the appropriate auditions. But how many more orchestral musicians do we need? If the ambition is to go out into the precarious musical world alone, then in addition to a mighty commitment to acquiring technique, musicality, nerve and charisma, the amount of luck needed is close to winning the lottery.

For others, whose interests may not be professional, the ability to play an instrument along with others for pure pleasure will be a constant blessing. But even to achieve so much is rare enough. Musicians are not made at school; it's in the genes.

Copyright © 16 September 2004 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK




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