Music Education in schools and the problem with ‘The Arts Last’ Featured
Today we give the blog over to my current favourite guitar playing walking the earth, and long time Wampler artist (he performed at the Wampler NAMM booth this last January), Mr Jack Gardiner. Jack's musical life was transformed when he took his first lesson with Tom Quayle aged 16 and has progressed to be one of the most exciting players performing today, and I'll say it again, my current favourite player... the tone, the notes, the phrasing, the versatility... you can check out his YouTube channel here. Jack is a session guitarist, touring artist and teacher based in Liverpool (UK) and Switzerland, has toured with countless amazing artists such as Stu Hamm (you can read Stu's impressions of Jack here) and taught at clinics with players such as Guthrie Govan.... Anyway, enough of my waffle, here's Jack!
I’ll never forget my first day teaching in a Secondary School (High School for my friends across the pond). Me being 20 years old - not much older than the students I was about to teach was a slightly daunting prospect. Knowing the area I was about to teach in and the reputation of the school that Steven Gerrard (Liverpool Football Club legend) studied at, had me ready for the typical ‘Scouse’ (Liverpudlian native) humour/insults that could be thrown my way, being a bearded, long haired, wizard-looking guitarist. Not a common look for suburban Liverpool to say the least.
As I was walked to my white-washed, no window room I was given a list of all the students I’d be taking for the following 6 hours. The Head of Music warned me that there was one student in particular who had some slight anger management issues, but wouldn’t tell me which one it was. ‘You’ll know when you meet him’ was her response. So I go about my day, which for the most part was pretty pleasant, when I get a knock on the door – my last pupil of the day. I introduce myself explaining how I’m the new guitar teacher and ask the boy, (we’ll call him Josh), ‘How’re you doing?’, to which he replies ‘F*****g s**t’. Ah… Here he is. Now the thing is, Josh was in Year 8 at the time (12-13) and I soon discovered that he was really getting into heavy-metal music. Delighted at the prospect, I introduced him to some of the heavier music I was listening to such as Animals as Leaders, Periphery, Lamb of God etc. He soon realized that with practice, he could actually start playing some of this stuff. By the time he was in Year 11 and taking his GCSE’s (16 years old), the difference in him as a person was huge. It was hard to recognize this polite, humble young lad, when compared to my final pupil I had on my first day. Now Josh ended up coming away with really good GCSE results – especially in Music, but when it came to him entering 6th Form, he hadn’t picked Music for his A-Levels. I was shocked that he hadn’t to be honest, but upon asking him, he told me that he didn’t think there was any future or job to be had and that his parents thought it was more important to focus on ‘real’ subjects. I was gutted, but at least I thought he could continue his one-to-one lessons with me at least – something he was very keen on. That’s when I noticed that he wasn’t on my list of pupils at the start of the new academic year and this is where the issues begin.
Most Secondary Schools in the U.K. will either part subsidise, or charge the pupil’s parents the full amount in order to pay peripatetic teachers. The reason being for this is that over the years, successive UK Governments have continually slashed budgets for Music and the Arts in the name of austerity. When I was 9 years old, growing up in Anfield (home of Liverpool Football Club/one of the most deprived areas in the country), my local Primary School had music teachers that were sent from Liverpool Music Support Service (now called Resonate) who provided free musical instruments and lessons, fully funded by the Arts Council. That meant free music lessons and an instrument to practice at home for those that really wanted to do it! With the background I’m from, it would have been a nightmare financially for my parents to pay for lessons and an instrument privately. Especially not knowing whether it’s something that I’d actually be interested in enough to take seriously.
The lucky thing about the current Secondary School I’m teaching in, is that they actually pay all peripatetic teachers at their own hourly rate, out of the schools own budget. This means that pupil’s parents don’t have to contribute anything towards lessons. Essentially, it’s a free 20-minute guitar lesson a week aimed at pupils who are showing promise/looking to take GCSE Music. Now going back to Josh, for him not to pick A-Level means that he’s taking a lesson slot that could potentially go to a new pupil looking to take GCSE Music. His name falls down the list. This brings me onto my next point…
I posted recently on Facebook about how a pupil of mine who showed promise in his playing had came to me at the beginning of term telling me how his parents had requested to change his lesson slot. Now according to his parents, his guitar lesson could not be taking part during his Math’s lesson. Bare in mind that a Math’s lesson is 1 Hour long, 3-4 times a week. A guitar lesson is 20 minutes long, once a week. A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that ‘students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs’… Regardless, the Head of Music and I desperately tried to find a new time slot for him, without moving other pupils into core subjects for fear of the same thing happening to them. Week two of term comes along and the young pupil comes to me to tell me his parent’s have told him he can’t be having his lesson in this new time slot as it’s in his ‘History Lesson’ which is a ‘proper subject’. I asked him then, which lessons have his parents’ deemed ‘non-proper lessons’ to which he replies ‘Art, Music or PE’. My heart broke and my blood began to boil. He’s now left with no guitar lessons and no prospect of taking GCSE Music. I’m not saying that this kid could have been the next revolutionary guitar player, but he at least showed talent and desire. I see this time and time again. If we go back to Josh, there is someone who was willing to take time out of ANY of his A-Level Subjects (arguably more important) to have one-to-one lessons but can’t because he’s not taking A-Level Music. Just recently I had the exact same situation with a seriously talented 17-year-old, who can’t afford private lessons outside of school. No A-Level/GCSE Music, no lessons.
Growing up in Anfield was a rough experience. I remember coming home from school one evening to see a guy injecting (what I can safely assume by his demenour and appearance to be drugs) at the bus stop in broad daylight. I was verbally abused aged 12 coming home from school by a woman who told me to ‘get your f******g hair cut you scumbag’ in front of my father. A SUV flipped over on our driveway one evening, before two men jumped out and stabbed the guy they were chasing on foot at the side of our house. The boy who I grew up with playing football over the other side of the street recently died in what seemed to be gang-related crime. Crime was and is everywhere. I’m not saying that I would ever be involved in any of this if I were not doing music (as my parents would’ve killed me), but it did provide a whole host of other opportunities, a distraction from what was around me, everywhere around me. The kids I was introduced to via Tuesday night and Saturday morning music schools (funded by Liverpool Music Support Service) were from all sorts of backgrounds. I met some of my long-term best friends there, most who are actively involved in the Music Industry these days. I discovered all kinds of different bands/musicians. All of these factors contributed to me becoming the person/player I am today. All thanks to free music education.
My point is, when funding is constantly being cutting, labeling a subject as ‘improper’ and forcing the kids to think about their future ‘real’ job at the age of 12, they could be closing a whole host of doors for them in the future. They don’t realize how;
- They’re taking away an opportunity from someone else who WANTS to do Music Lessons
- They’re taking away an opportunity for your child to make new friends and build relationships, develop cognitive skills; improve listening skills, etc. etc.
- Falsely labeling a subject as ‘improper’ is dangerous. It demeans and under values the whole world surrounding it – how many memories do we all have that are cornerstones because of the music of the moment – is that improper?
Please, everyone...not only must we not under value the emotional benefits of learning and making music, but also the academic value and benefits!
- Jack Gardiner, 2019.
Here is Jack giving his brand new Strandberg* it's first play, total improvisation! - feel free to hit me up if you need an interpreter to deal with his strong Liverpool accent!!