Thanks to all those who responded to my story about the teaching of piping in schools, writes the Editor. You may have missed the printed comments from Claire MacPherson and George Barlow, so here they are again.
Claire first: ‘I wholeheartedly agree. Music must be at the very core [of our education system] and every child deserves to have the opportunity to experience our amazing musical heritage and take it as far as they wish.
‘I went through the state system from 1979 (last to receive the free milk!) until early ’90s and in that time, in the heart of the Highlands, we were given recorders and taught ‘Portsmouth’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’.
‘Would chanters and the Haughs of Cromdale and Green Hills not have been more appropriate? It’s nothing short of a crime to grow up in such ignorance (to say nothing of what was done to our Gaelic language).
‘Would this money be better spent in a more direct and proactive approach, perhaps subsidising chanters for families who need a little extra help, and towards the creation of pipes and drums bands in as many state secondary schools as possible?
‘I worry our beautiful music, and dancing too, will only be accessible to, and enjoyed by, a small minority taught solely in private schools (perhaps going the same way I tend to think of opera and ballet) and to the detriment of all.
‘After all, who are we without our culture, with which to identify? The Scottish Government should have the will, and a robust plan, to keep it alive and thriving for all.’
Indeed Claire, and thank you very much for that. It is in state schools in our rural areas that most work needs to be done. In the cities there are bands, as I alluded to in my original piece, and also let us not forget the Boys’ Brigade.
Bands and the BB, as I and hundreds of others know personally, have been a piping lifeline for disadvantaged children for the past 100 years, maybe more.
Out in the rural regions children can be much more isolated. Here we can point to the work of the South West Scotland Pipe and Drum Academy down Dumfries way and in the Highlands the Fèisean nan Gàidheal movement provide a focus.
The latter is funded indirectly by the Scottish Government and that has to be a good thing. The SWPDA relies on the philanthropy of the Grant family, those generous piping benefactors.
But the endeavours of these bodies and many others should be seen not as a mainstay, more as supplementing a national programme of learning fixed permanently in the state school curriculum.
If it takes seven years to make a piper then, if we start off in primary schools, those with the will and dedication, will leave secondary with a life skill as important as any talent for trigonometry.
Clearly in these pages we are most concerned with piping and to a lesser extent drumming, but this long-term planning should hold good for all musical instruments
The second letter we published was from regular correspondent George Barlow in the US. George: ‘Hope you can answer this question for me; does the UK not have local school boards that present a budget for locals to vote on?
‘Do you guys [UK] not have a school tax? Here in the US every state requires the local school boards to present a budget to vote on by the local residents; it’s commonly called a school tax.
‘It covers everything from salaries, maintenance, to extra curricular activities: sports, music, language clubs etc. What’s up with the UK?’
No is doesn’t work like that here George. Education is run by the local authorities, though ultimate responsibility for it rests with the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Residents in a particular council area pay a tax to local authorities for all services, not just schools, but the bulk of their income comes from grant allocations from Edinburgh.
If voters and taxpayers don’t like how their money is being spent they can vote them out at local and national elections. The problem for piping, and other music teaching, is that when the financial screw gets turned we are always first to face cuts.
Music is seen as extra-curricular rather than mainstream. Until the people and the politicians decide to change that the current position will continue for the forseeable future.