Music for the many not the few

IMG_3289This is the text of my submission to the Neath Port Talbot and Swansea Councils’ consultation on withdrawal of funding to the West Glamorgan Music Service.

Dear Sirs,

As a teenager, I learned to play a baritone, benefitting from regular tuition at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera. I was able to play with the Pontarddulais Town Band, and also with the West Glamorgan Youth Brass Band and in due course the National Youth Brass Band of Wales. These were all hugely important formative experiences in my life. None of this would have been possible had my parents been required to buy my instrument, which would have cost thousands of pounds, or pay for the extensive tuition I received. Nor would it have been true for most of the other young people who played alongside me.

So I am very dismayed by the threat to the future funding of the West Glamorgan Schools Music Service.

Wales has an enormous musical and cultural heritage. The growth of the creative industries in Wales is something we should be proud of – there has been substantial investment from the Welsh Government over recent years which has meant that Wales is attracting very significant investment from overseas, growing our creative industries as a major export sector. This is creating decently paid jobs and good opportunities.

It is vital that the full range of opportunities are available to local people and that our school students are encouraged to develop the necessary skills to take advantage of them. It would be a dereliction of our duty if those opportunities were only available to those able to afford the considerable costs of buying musical instruments and tuition.

Even for those who do not wish to use their musical skills to earn a living, the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument and playing in an ensemble are substantial. Young people learn to collaborate, to take responsibility, and the confidence which comes from persevering with your peers to master a piece of music.

They also learn an appreciation of music, which may stay with them for life.

In each case, it would be profoundly unfair if these opportunities were only available to those with the means to pay.

More broadly, I know that music ensembles in our communities depend in part on young players coming through the school system, where they are given the tuition they need to support their development. The potential cuts to the WGMS may also have a profound effect on community music playing which is a very valuable part of our cultural life and heritage.

I hope that both Neath Port Talbot and Swansea councils can find a common solution which enables the West Glamorgan Music Service to continue. I am pleased that NPT has committed to support the service within its county boundaries, but with ensembles that straddle the boundaries of both counties, it would be a step backwards if those ensembles weren’t able to draw on the best players regardless of where they live, rather than simply those who can afford to take part.

Jeremy Miles

Welsh Labour and Co-operative Assembly Candidate for Neath