Cue the sound of sad violins wailing in the background…
The ConDem Government love music education so much they brought out a paper on it late last year called `The Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education'.
In the paper's intro, Michael Gove, Tory Minister for Education, and Ed Vaizey, LibDem Minister for Culture et al, gush about the, er, `importance of music'…
"Most children will have their first experience of music at school" they squeal "It is important that music education of high quality is available to as many of them as possible: it must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition. While music touches the lives of all young people, the disadvantaged can benefit most.
"Our vision is to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of
England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make
music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress
to the next level of excellence…"
Wonderful, is it not? So what do they do? Slash music education funding to Salford, of course; down from to £397,000 in 2012-13, to £318,000 in 2013-14, to £241,000 in 2014-15.
And what does Salford Council do? Pass on the cuts to the music service, of course, reducing subsidy for music educational by £300,000 up to 2013-14, and who knows how much after then…
In similar speak to the ConDem Government, Salford Council states… "We are very proud of the Music and Performing Arts Service [MAPAS] and it is with regret that, in this time of great financial pressure, we believe we have to redesign the service to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the service and costs of tuition are kept to a minimum for schools and parents…"
And while Salford Council is consulting on three rubbish Options for the future of MAPAS – which include slashing teachers' wages and hiving off the service to Salford Community Leisure - it's preparing to write out a cheque next month to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra for £3million in sponsorship…
…All of which has gone down like a Les Dawson piano solo amongst parents and kids who use the music service, and with trade unions which represent the teachers…
"The problem is Salford Council withdrawing funding for the children of Salford to play and learn musical instruments, while they're willing to give money hand over fist to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra" says Heather Rawlinson, whose son, Ben, attends Salford Youth Brass rehearsals.
"I just get mad that we're paying all our council tax and it's our children who are suffering" she adds "The Council is bragging about Media City… `We've got this and we've got that, and isn't it wonderful'…and yet our children can't have any benefits. There are three options but none of them are suitable and the present system is better. Really all they need to do is cut some funding that they're giving to Media City and the BBC, and just re-direct it back into Salford."
Heather's thoughts are echoed by Julie Webster, whose son, Oliver, plays the baritone. For Julie the music lessons are more than merely learning to play an instrument…
"Oliver's been coming for almost a year and absolutely loves it" she says "When he first came to lessons he saw everyone sat there and it was so daunting that he wanted to go away. But he came back the week after and he loved it. Over the time he's been here, he's turned from very shy and quiet to a lot more outgoing and confident. He's a completely different child and I believe it's this. He looks forward to it. He wants to come, and gets a buzz from performing."
At the moment parents pay £50 at school plus £50 for out-of-school lessons for the Salford music service. It's just about affordable but Julie and others are worried that, following the cuts, the prices will go up.
"I don't like the idea of paying more for music lessons, we pay enough as it is" she explains "People aren't going to come if it's more expensive, or the tutors will find other means of employment because the Council won't pay them what they want paying. But these children are our future so they should think about where they're investing our money. It's very generous of them to give all that money to the BBC but these kids are the raw new talent."
Julie describes how MAPAS has brought in DJ decks to teach scratching, and how the young people have created their own music on the Cloud. Meanwhile, Peter Jones, who brings his grand-daughter and grand-son twice a week to rehearsals, talks of the prestigious concerts the bands play at The Lowry and elsewhere.
Indeed the MAPAS Youth Orchestra is due to perform at the Mayor's Charity Concert on March 22nd, and with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at MediaCityUK on March 19th. The latter concert should be fun. What is it - the handing over the £3million cheque ceremony?
"I think the money should be directed inwardly rather than out; it should be kept for the benefit of Salford" says Peter "The BBC have a licence fee and should support themselves. I don't think they should be subsidised by us at the expense of kids.
"To get the pleasure they get from this sort of thing taken away from them, I think, is totally wrong" he adds "I personally don't think any of the options are right and can't see the reason why they have to cut children's services at all. I think it's part of their education. There's nothing more important than education, it's the building block for their future lives, whether it's music or anything else…"
None of the three Options that Salford Council is consulting on until March 16th seem to be acceptable to anyone. The first two Options are about slashing tutors' wages by re-classifying them as either `unqualified' or `self employed', while the third (Council-preferred) Option is to hive MAPAS off to Salford Community Leisure by September.
Salford Community Leisure could then do whatever it wanted with MAPAS - cut staff, slash wages, increase fees – under the cloak of being separate from Salford City Council.
"The Options are a nightmare" says Joe Langley of teachers union, NASUWT "We're calling on the Council to look at a fourth Option, to take stock, be realistic and manage the cuts in a civilised way. MAPAS is a very long running service that's been great for helping disadvantaged kids, and it's galling that the Council is paying £millions to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra while slashing the service.
"The BBC might be sexier than a schools music service but this has an effective impact on the citizens of Salford, working with kids in classes and on an individual basis" he adds "It's a great shame but part of the barbaric society we're moving towards…"
It's a society that bemuses eight year old Ben Rawlinson who might well be one of Salford's top musicians of the future…
"I've been coming to band rehearsals for about four months and really enjoy it" he says "One day I'd like to be a professional musician and maybe play with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I'd feel really upset if they cut the money…"
The ConDem Government's paper, The Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education, talks about the creation of music hubs where "More children will experience a combination of classroom teaching, instrumental and vocal tuition, opportunities to play in ensembles and the chance to learn from professional musicians…".
Hypocrisy doesn't come any clearer…
For further details of the MAPAS Consultation and to forward comments to Salford City Council – click here.
* To show what a great music service Salford has got, the Friends of MAPAS invited loads of politicians to see a rehearsal last week. Only one councillor, John Warmisham, and the Salford MP, Hazel Blears, even acknowledged the invitation (although they couldn't go, of course), which shows just how proud they all are of Salford's music service...