Look into the future
-- by Richard Berkeley
The arts exist for our moral and
intellectual benefit. They stand as testament to the human condition.
They exist to be used and to be learnt from. We need the arts to
understand the past, to live the present and prepare for the future.
They are a platform for innovation. Yet many governments fail to ensure
that children receive a basic arts education. Music is basic.
At a time when technology dazzles and cash
is short, music seems to get the worst deal in the class room.
Musicians themselves are often at fault. Few are good ambassadors for
their art. Too few see their skills as a gift to be shared. Too few
understand that we all have the right to make music. It is not a
question of talent.
But, of course, it is wrong to blame the
musicians only. Ministers and administrators who are responsible for
policy need to be convinced. Many will have memories of music lessons
involving grim struggles with out-of-tune recorders in uninspiring
music rooms or of stories of the great composers` lives without
understanding anything of their music. With this sort of experience, it
must be very hard to appreciate that music education has any benefits
for society in general.
But music is vital for so many areas of
human development, not least for the imagination. Another benefit which
is so often ignored, even by advocates of music education, is that it
develops social skills. Every performance involves working with others,
learning to compromise, to take reasonability, to share the success and
share the failures. School should equip us with these survival tools
for life. Yet what most school systems test is not fitness for society
but the amount of information retained for exams and then quickly
Cramming information is no longer good
enough. It was good enough in the industrial revolution to get a boy
out of the gutter and on to a clerk’s bench. But not today. Neither is
the teacher any longer the only font of knowledge. Thanks to the
internet, knowledge can be gained easily from any number of sources
which are broader and probably more reliable than the teacher can
offer. What can’t be understood without guidance is what to do with
knowledge once it has been obtained. How to evaluate it. How to develop
it. How to implement it. How to turn it to profit. This requires
imagination, trust and the ability to work with others.
Yet, these aspects are almost entirely
ignored in primary and secondary schooling in countries such as Poland.
Where are the performing arts, the team sports, the shared objectives?
True, historians rarely comment on the childhood sporting activities of
the great composers. Probably there were none. The reinvention of team
sports as part of school life and character building was a 19th century
English obsession which served the Empire well. But we do know that
most people took part in some sort of shared musical activity whether
it was singing and dancing to the village band or playing chamber music
The Arts in many countries have been
segregated, ghettoised. Special schools exist for talented children,
though what is meant by talent in this context remains undefined.
Talent, per se, does not exist. Everyone can learn to dig potatoes;
some enjoy it more and do it better than others. Everyone can learn to
drive a car, but we are not all driven to be racing drivers. These are
mechanical exercises which simply require good teaching and hard work
in order to become proficient. The same true for the performing arts.
However, as with all human activities, motivation is an important
Since World War II our access to music has
changed dramatically. Few of us have much contact with live music. Long
gone are the street musicians, jazz bands and classical ensembles that
used to flourish in every pre-War town. Nor do many people now have
live music at home. Yet, it is usually through seeing other people
doing something that motivates us to want to do it ourselves. If
children rarely or never see a musical instrument being played, where
can the motivation to want to learn come from?
Parental influence is enormously important.
In China the ability to play the piano is seen as a sign of social
achievement. The fact that 30 million or so Chinese children are
currently learning to play Chopin on the piano must have a lot to do
with parental aspirations.
A preferable influence is through peer group
pressure in school. Hear your school friend play the trumpet and you
might want to do it too. See your school mates perform a play or a
musical and you might want to be up there with them on the stage
receiving the applause for a shared effort. Why does this matter? It
matters because children need to learn to work together for a shared
objective. They need to be able to subjugate their egos for the common
good. They need to learn to share and develop ideas. It matters because
the arts change the way we think. The Arts, music especially, have been
acknowledged as playing a vital role in the social and mental
development of the young.
In Chopin`s home land the Polish government
spends a lot of money on music education. It runs over 300 special
music schools for primary and secondary education. Children who attend
the music primary schools often end up hating music because they have
not experienced the joy of playing together, of making music. They have
merely spent hours struggling alone in a room with their wretched
If not in school, where then do children
learn to use their imaginations and develop the self-confidence and
social skills that are going to enable them to fulfil their potential?
How else will nations beset with economic crises and social divisions
face the future with confidence? Music education will not solve all the
problems of society but music is a basic human need. If it is not
available in schools then where are the foundations of society? Finland
prides itself on its universal music education. Finland and the USA are
the most innovative countries in the world. Poland ranks 53rd. Surely,
here is a lesson.
Richard Berkeley is an Anglo-Pole who has
been living in Warsaw for ten years. He trained as a musician at London
University Goldsmiths College and the Guildhall School of Music and
Drama. He co-founded Baroque and Classical orchestras in Britain, Italy
and Poland whilst pursuing a singing career, working with musicians
such as Fabio Biondi, Rinaldo Alessandrini and Paolo Pandolfo. He has
worked as a producer, presenter or writer for BBC Television, RAI TV
and radio and TVP (Pegaz) and as an advertising copy-writer for many
commercials. He was Sir Mark Elder’s assistant on the award winning BBC
documentary. ‘Verdi, a life’. He is a Chairman of Fundacja Nowa
Orkiestra Kameralna and a consultant/trainer at top executive level to
leading companies in Poland and elsewhere.