The Wisdom of Benedetti

The brilliant violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti has been wading into the quagmire known as education in Britain with a claim that children should be forced to listen to classical music. She is passionate about her music and spends a lot of time on musical education, and now claims that instead of playing video games kids should be forced to listen to classical music, claiming it would teach the “life lessons’ and enhance their appreciation of beauty. She said that when she was at school, the works of the grate composers were just as important as the great literary works and maths. This seems to be coming from a biased point of view, but then she makes a very sound point: “Needing the child’s approval for what they do i school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English, but suddenly when you bring music into the mix, it’s: “Oh no we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something they don’t want to do.’ It just bemuses me.”

Yes, forcing them may not be the best way to get them to love it, so gentle encouragement may be a better route, but if we are talking about life enhancing experiences, exposing kids to a wide range of music is just as important as a range of literature or any of the other arts. I suspect part of the problem may be the length of the classical pieces, and perhaps ignorance by the teachers who themselves were never forced to learn it.

I grew up with parents whose musical tastes were limited to local radio, so when I went to a public school where all the girls were learning piano or violin I felt a bit left out, if only because hey had something they were forced to do that they could complain about.

But a lot of public money goes into supporting orchestras and opera companies, and if they are to survive, there needs to be a new generation with the potential to be their audiences. Nobody needs to teach us new music, because it’s all around us. But where do you start with the classics? I started with Aaron Copland, because he did film scores that I liked. And I liked Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Fanfare for the Common Man, so I was surprised that pop music was really older. With people like Johnny Greenwood and the guy from the National now writing and performing classical music, this might also draw in new audiences.

So, yes I think Nicola has a good point about teaching the classics in school, but in the present climate there’s little chance of this happening, so classical music will continue to be for the elite. Which is sad. If only because of the valuable discipline of sitting quietly for an extended time, which so few kids seem able to do anymore.  But then neither do I.

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