January 12, 2017 at 02:21AM

A renowned conductor has claimed that cuts to school budgets mean Wales is at risk of losing its reputation as a land of song and has called on the Welsh government to do more to ensure children learn to sing and play instruments.

Addressing assembly members, Owain Arwel Hughes, the founder of the Welsh Proms, warned that music in Wales was at a crisis point.

He said: “We are supposed to be a musical nation but something is radically wrong. We are at a crisis point. No question at all.

“Schools don’t have instruments so that in itself is a crisis. Playing is going down, singing is going down, choirs are going down. That’s a crisis.”

Arwel Hughes was invited to speak to members of the assembly’s culture committee, which has launched an inquiry into music in education after a public poll in which it asked citizens what they were most concerned about.

He has conducted some of the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic, and was a director of the National Youth Orchestra in Wales.

Arwel Hughes said he and the youth orchestra travelled widely. “Because they were so good we were selling Wales. If the players aren’t coming through how do we sell Wales as a musical nation? Impossible.”

He told the committee fewer people were auditioning for the youth orchestra than ever before. “That is really, really sad.”

The conductor argued that music taught young people about discipline and working together. “If you are learning an instrument, the first thing you learn is self discipline – the hours and hours of practice. That’s a discipline you don’t get from anywhere else. You don’t get it from sport. Music is an important part of a child’s development.

“Only a certain percentage go into the profession because it’s tough. But they become teachers, doctors, lawyers. They’re good at that because they’ve had the discipline of learning an instrument and being part of an orchestra or choir.”

Music and singing in particular has long been an important part of Wales’ cultural life. Its male voice choirs, opera singers and sporting crowds are famed across the globe. Its national youth orchestra was the first of its kind. From Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey to Manic Street Preachers and Cerys Matthews, Wales has also produced some of the most beloved pop and rocks stars.

Arwel Hughes said musicians who had told him that if they had not learned an instrument they would be ended up in prison.

Many had begun to play just because an instrument was available at school. “Very often I’ve asked someone: ‘Why have you learnt the double bass?’” They told him: “Because that was the instrument that was there in the school at the time.”

He said music had also been shown to have health benefits, which was particularly important when the NHS was in such difficulty. “Without music we’re going to have people getting ill. The therapeutic value of music is known.”

In England the Department for Education funds “music education hubs” to the tune of about £75m a year. These can be groups of organisations – such as local authorities, schools or voluntary groups – that work together to create joined-up music education provision.

Education in a devolved area and Arwel Hughes called for a similar hub scheme for Wales. “Everybody should have equal opportunity. Funding has got to be found. The government has got to put money into this. It’s vital.

A Welsh government spokesman said: “We remain committed to teaching music and all pupils are required to study the subject up to 14. We expect all pupils to be given the opportunity to gain experience of a wide range of musical disciplines. We also have in place a £20m programme to support schools to use creativity to inspire learners and raise attainment.

“Creativity will be at the heart of our new curriculum, where the arts in education will not be a luxury or added extra, but a core component. While music services are the responsibility of local authorities, we are committed to creating a new national endowment for music fund and will make an announcement on this later this year.”

from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2jbRpLT