MEIRION BOWEN - Articles & Publications



All children are capable of appreciating and performing music to a certain extent, given the right encouragement and tuition. Only a few are born with a distinct musical flair and it seems that genetic factors affect the speed with which individuals learn musical tech- niques, Ideally a taste for music should be cultivated from as young an age as possible, but many people do not begin to appreciate music until adolescence or later and some of them go on to becorde top professionals.

The best way to encourage an interest in music is to allow children to perform themselves. Many people today live with a continuous stream of piped music from the radio, records and tapes "muzak" as it is called in the trade. Children who grow up in such a situation, where music is regarded as purely part of the environment, tend to take longer to appreciate music to the full. It is more difficult to get them to listen to music, as opposed to just hearing it in the background. Recorded music is no substitute for actual instruments and "live" participation.

A child will enjoy playing around with musical toys drums, jingles, whistles of all sorts and benefit from this musically. (A variety of banging and bellowing is slightly less of a strain, on parents and neighbours alike.) He wiI1 also enjoy singing and dancing to nursery rhymes and joining in the performances on radio and television programmes and records for the very young. If by the age of two or three he retains his interest in music, he should be tried out with proper instruments of diKerent sorts. Picking out a tune with one finger on a piano is a good start.

Provided they are sufficiently keen, most children can begin to learn to play simple notated music while they are still at the kindergarten stage. They can learn to read and write music at the same time. A child should never be forced to take up any specific instrument - he will need time to choose and settle down with one.

The piano is a reasonable choice at this stage, partly because it has such all-round usefulness, but if a piano is not available the guitar is a good alternative. A guitar is not expensive, it is versatile, and small-sized versions are obtainable. The advantage of a guitar is that the player is close to the sound and its quality can be easily controlled. The notes are marked by frets on the soundboard, which is a help to the child. The guitar can prove a natural stepping stone to other, more difficult stringed instruments - violins, violas and cellos - and these too are obtainable in three-quarter, half or even quarter- size versions.

Most primary schools have percussion instruments and recorders on hand for use individually and in groups. If a child is given his own recorder, it is best to give him a descant instrument to start with, then a treble. Wooden recorders are better than plastic ones. The recorder can be learnt quite quickly. Finger-charts and books of instruction, with tunes to play, are often included free with the instrument. A child may find it more fun than a piano or stringed instrument, and if his progress is fast he may choose to take up a woodwind or brass instrument.

Of the woodwind instruments, the clarinet is the easiest to start off with, but the others should not be ruled out. Give the child a choice, if possible. It is most important to consult a pro- fessional performer in choosing a wood- wind or brass instrument as considerable care is needed in selecting the right size, the correct mouthpiece, and so on. (Parents should consult a dentist if their child has protruding teeth).

A child can take up a brass instrument at a surprisingly early age. A growing number of primary schools give tuition on trumpets, horns and trombones.

In primary schools, there are often - in addition to percussion and recorders - a selection of the instruments devised by Carl Orff the German composer. These small xylophones, glockenspiels, ocarinas, guitars, and other stringed and wind instruments enable children to progress by leaps and bounds, and have great fun doing so. The Carl Orff method is the one most widespread in British primary schools, and it has transformed primary muscial education. Other experiments have been made combining music with dance and mime.

It is important to consult a professional musician' whatever musical in- strument is being bought for a child. Parents untrained in music should not rely on guesswork or the advice of music shop assistants. Ideally, children should not have to make do with a second-rate instrument. The finest instruments cost the most, but properly looked after they are an investment. A piano with a heavy touch, uneven tone, inefficient pedals and which is not tuned at concert pitch, can fatally impede a child's progress. Good pianos can be bought second-hand at a much reduced price. Leading piano manufacturing firms are generally sym- pathetic about arranging hire-purchase terms and they offer valuable advice on keeping the instrument in good con- dition. Parents should not rely on the selection of shiny pianos available in furniture shops, stores, and even music shops, especially outside London. Much the same applies to other instruments. A talented musical child can often become frustrated with a mediocre or faulty instrument.

While the child is still at school parents should try and be actively c involved in his musical life. Practice is c best organised as a daily ritual. No session should be too long at first, and c the same applies to private lessons. Ten to fifteen minutes, preferably each i morning when the child is still fresh, f are a good idea, and are far more 1 valuable than one or two long sessions t during the week, both psychologically and from the point of view of acquiring muscular dexterity and developing a musical memory.

Parents who decide to give their child private music tuition should take some trouble over the choice of a teacher. Many piano teachers are effective enough in getting young children past the initial stages of reading and playing simple pieces but very few are adept at developing the pupil's technical skill and capacity and stimulating his general interest in music. Young children frequently become bored with piario lessons through the inadequacies of the teacher. Without real "know-how" on the keyboard the diKcult episodes in more advanced pieces will always be a stumbling block. And if a child's repertoire is confined to a diet of simple pieces he may conclude that the world of exciting music is closed to him. If good teachers are not available locally, parents may decide to use one some distance away. Fewer lessons and the extra expenditure on travel may prove worthwhile in later years. Many children have to start lessons afreeh when they are adults and unlearn the bad tech- nical habits acquired in childhood. It is a good idea to give a child the chance to play a second instrument. This will allow him to keep his options open and will stand him in good stead When he is involved in group music- making in school and later. It will also help to maintain his respect for music and his curiosity about diA'erent musical experiences. The nature and extent of music teaching in secondary schools varies enormously. Some counties, such as Leicestershire and Kent, have built up a strong musical tradition in their schools by eupplying vast numbers of instru- ments and teachers and organising considerable orchestral and other en- semble-playing facilities. Parents who live in areas where the education authorities have not done so much have to rely mainly on private tuition, which has its disadvantages. There ia no substitute for making music an integral part of the educational curriculum. Wherever music is not treated as the poor relation in the school timetable, but as an essential part of every one's day's activities, the pupils who are musically talented benefit as much as those who are relatively un- talented. It is perfectly possible, for example, for a young teenager trained on the fiute at a secondary school in Leicestershire to end up as first flautist in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. 1 There have been many such cases. Parents who live in an area where ' musical provision in the achools is not, good and whose child seems particularly talented may decide to send him to a special music school. There are several of these, of which the most famous is the Yehudi Menuhin School. In eome schools considerable scope is also given to pupils with really good voices. In such schools professional standarda are cultivated and are available to all pupils. The child with a fine voice will receive a training as good as that offered at cathedral choir- schools and he will possibly sing a wider variety of music. In later years, he will compete on equal terms with pupils from choir schools for places in the top choirs and for echolarships to universi- ties like Oxford or Cambridge. Music exams should be avoided until they become absolutely essential. Many teachers like to enter their pupils for the exams of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and aome pupils like to see their performance in such exams as an indication of their rate of progress. There are severe disadvantages here. The repertoire of pieces is not as wide as it should be and is too often confined to small sections of large-scale worke. Young performers atarved of longer, more taxing works will eventually get rather jaded. And these ex'ams carry little weight as qualifica- tions. GCE "0" and "A" Level qualifica- tions in music are more valuable. 910 Orchestras, chamber music ensembles, choirs, operatic or theatrical produc- tions feature more and more in secon- dary education curricula. Many counties have a secondary schools orchestra which draws on the talent and en- thusiasm of young players in the area. This costs little to parents apart from the child's travelling expenses for rehearsals and concerts which are not held in school time. There is consider- able scope for talented players, whether they are going to be professional musicians or not, to join the National Youth Orcheetra of Great Britain. Welsh students can also audition for the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. There may be more auch orchestras in the future. Opportunities to take part in orchestral performances on this level are as much aimed at pupils who play in their leisure time as at those who plan to take up music as a career. Parents should encourage participa- tion in musical activities even when it extends only to pop music. An interest in pop may be the beginning of a wider interest. Visits to concerts and recitals should also be encouraged. The ex- perience of hearing great musicians play live cannot really be matched by hearing them on record. Some colleges, like Dartington College, offer courses for potential teachers who would like to give a more creative bias to their work, bringing in art and music in an experimental and 1 Modern primary schools make a great effort to encourage an active appreciation of music through par- ticipation. 2 The choice of music teacher is an important one for parents to make, especially if their child is gifted. The good teacher will develop any talent to the full imaginative way. The educational sys- tem is already benefiting from this. Young children often find it easier than adults to get to grips with contemporary music and art. Many avant-garde musicians and artists prefer to teach very young children and their collabora- tion is mutually stimulating. Music eareers. Careers of all kinde are open to the talented musician. Versa- tility is, therefore, an asset, and opinion diKers as to whether the big music colleges or university music depart- ments offer the most satisfactory courses of study. Broadly speaking, music colleges concentrate on instrumental and vocal performance, conducting and composition, while university depart- ments are more concerned with historical studies. However, the distinc- tions between such coursee are gradually disappearing and each course should be considered on its merits. In the past, more teachers and musicolo- gists emerged from university courses, and more orchestral musicians and soloists, conductors and composers came from the colleges. But this pattern too is breaking down.

Special grants and. scholarships are available from the institutions them- selves and from local education authori- ties, and it is worth finding out in detail what can be obtained. Some children leave school at 16, for instance, if they are gifted players and a college has accepted them for study, and they can obtain grants from their LEA.

The best paid musicians are those who work in the fields of pop music and jazz. Well-trained, versatile performers can earn quite a high income by playing in professional orchestras, theatre bands and so on. It is a highly competitive field, in London especially.

Far more competitive, though, is the sphere of solo performances. It requires considerable stamina, patience and courage to embark on a career as solo pianist or violinist. At first, such a career should always be supplemented by chamber music and other activities like teaching. Composers and conductors have an even harder life. Many earn a lot from working on film music, or a moderate wage from music publishers or from work as music copyists. But there are a growing number of research fellowships for composers, and competitions for soloists and conductors, and even for chamber music and jazz groups. Teaching music offers considerable opportunities.

A musician's progress depends a great deal on his application and integrity, which is why it is so important for parents to give children a good start. The person for whom music is an important secondary interest or hobby will find much the same to be true. He can develop his talents at summer schools - where leading musicians train amateurs and non-professionaIs act as coaches and in extra-mural courses.