Having started playing the violin at five, Cardiff-born Eos Chater spent her childhood playing in orchestras in and around the Welsh capital. Now better known as a member of Bond, the best-selling string quartet of all time, she writes for yourCardiff on why she believes the council’s cuts to Cardiff’s music service must be stopped.
Cardiff council plans to stop the Music Development Fund (MDF) – which helped more than 2,800 pupils last year – to save £173,000 a year. The authority also wants to increase Cardiff County and Vale of Glamorgan Music Service tuition fees by 11% to raise an extra £151,000 a year and make the service cost neutral.
“Having been brought up through the British music education system, the issue of cuts is something that is very close to my heart.
It seems that music in schools is seen as a luxury, an unnecessary middle class pursuit – but what is often overlooked is the additional learning that takes place in musical environments.
When I was a kid, all the county orchestras and school instrument lessons were government-funded and therefore free to pupils and their parents.
That meant that anybody and everybody could learn to play an instrument, and be a part of a brass band, choir or orchestra regardless of their financial or social background.
This was a good thing. In making cuts, I think that some children are being denied the following wider benefits that a music education provides:
1. Building confidence
Being a part of a large group of like-minded people and working together and achieving a common goal is hugely beneficial for young people. I have life-long friends from my youth orchestra days.
2. The value of co-operation
In an orchestra everyone needs to be co-operative and to play together for the performance to be any good. The whole orchestra could be made up of virtuoso players but if they don’t play together the orchestra will sound awful.
3. Speaking and listening
Being aware of when it’s your time to come to the fore and when to let someone else be heard
4. Sharing leadership
An orchestral soloist and conductor mutually follow one another in a (for want of a better word) dance.
Nothing makes you more punctual than having 70 people turning round tutting at you as you arrive late – even if it’s done in good spirit.
6. Pulling your weight and having pride in your work
People who join an orchestra/band and are “passengers” rarely stay so for long. As everybody knows everybody else in an orchestra so people tend to make an effort.
7. Diligence and responsibility
String players write in the leader’s bowings to make sure they’re doing the same. Wind players mark in where to breathe. You learn pretty quickly that you look like an idiot if you’re the only one with your bow going the opposite way to everyone else. Also, the more you practice, the better you get, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes.
8. Taking direction without taking offence
It is impossible to learn an instrument without being regularly corrected and criticised. In fact musicians welcome constructive criticism more than outright praise because it helps us improve.
9. Giving direction without causing offence
Members of an orchestra or band often have to give direction to fellow members. There are good and bad ways of saying the same thing
10. Mental development
It has been proven that playing an instrument helps develop the brain, as it makes connections across the left and right hemispheres. The mathematical, rhythmic left side is engaged as well as the emotional expressive right side. This, added to listening to an ensemble and watching the leader and conductor, makes for a good mental workout.
I could go on for a lot longer, but I believe all of the above are very valuable lessons in life, and are qualities that would be valued by employers and the workforce in general as well as in relationships.
Recently while working as musicians’ casting and coordinator for a film called Hunky Dory, I auditioned hundreds of school children and students throughout South Wales, and it was a real pleasure to see so many talented good-natured young people who were brilliant at working together and solving problems.
It would be terrible to think that young people like these could miss out in the future, not just on music but on the indirect life lessons too.
I really hope that today’s children can benefit from the same opportunities I had.”