Megan Birchall writes:
I am a musician — I have played in national orchestras and although I never intend to go professional, the joy that music has brought to me can never be underestimated.
I began playing when I was in Year 3 at my primary school as part of the Wider Opportunities scheme which has been delivered to more than two million nationally and from then on — admittedly changing instruments several times until I finally settled on saxophone aged 11 — I have never stopped playing.
If there is one thing I can truly say that music brought me it was a sense of camaraderie. As someone who never quite fit in, the music department at my school, along with those involved in it, gave me a sanctuary that I couldn’t have done without.
Amid teaching us timings and harmonies, we bonded as a group. Performing in an ensemble, whether on an instrument or in a choir, nurtures patience as you go over the same few bars over and over, trying to near perfection.
I can certainly say, as I imagine many others can, that over time music helps to develop an eye — or ear — for detail as you try to correct every little fault. That’s not to say music is a harsh, demanding environment to grow up in, but it does take commitment.
An abundance of studies have been written over the years, demonstrating the benefits of children engaging in music from a young age, but studies can’t truly capture that bond that you gain from performing with your peers, nor can they explain the abstract feeling that every time you perform, you feel as though you’re creating something truly special.
No two performances will ever be exactly the same and you feel that as you perform. Of course, for those who have never seriously engaged in music, this probably sounds like a load of balderdash.
However, a study published by the University of Kansas in 2007 showed that students in schools with better music programmes scored an average of 20 per cent higher in maths and English, regardless of any of socioeconomic factors that could possibly influence it.
Similarly, when playing percussive instruments, younger children are able to develop their hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills at a much faster rate than their peers.
Music has been proven to develop brain functions as it crucially uses both the left and right side of the brain, helping to massively increase cognitive functions. Even the social benefits I mentioned previously have been well documented.
Whether the child goes on to pursue music or not — and the hefty majority don’t, going on to a wide range of careers instead and enjoying music solely as a hobby — the patience, discipline and other necessary skills developed by music carry over to whatever they decide to move on to and are crucial to allowing them to excel, possibly even giving them an advantage over their less musical peers.
Speaking as a member of the Labour Party, I think that we need to more openly demand that music and other arts subjects aren’t going to bear the burden of Tory cuts — especially given the proven benefits of allowing young people to engage with a musical education consistently as they grow older.
Of course, core subjects like English and maths need to be prioritised, but why should music be the first to be cut when it comes to extracurricular activities? Decades of studies demonstrate the benefits of giving young people access to a musical education, so why is it that it’s usually the first to go? Do we not owe it to our young people to allow them an opportunity to develop creatively?