Leading Scots musician slams cuts to school tuition

Tommy Smith. Picture: Callum Bennetts

Tommy Smith. Picture: Callum Bennetts

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One of Scotland’s leading musicians has warned of a “devastating” impact if council chiefs in Edinburgh go ahead with plans to cut back free music tuition.

Tommy Smith, founder and director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, has warned of a “downward spiral effect that will last decades” unless a proposal to introduce tuition fees is dropped.

More than 1,500 people have signed an online petition protesting against moves to cut the instrumental tuition budget by 75 per cent to save £1.7 million over the next four years.

The city council wants to set up a new social enterprise to deliver music tuition and has suggested it raises external funding which is not available to the authority.

The plans have emerged weeks after a new long-term culture plan for the city suggested private-sector businesses and wealthy philanthropists be asked to bankroll the arts in Edinburgh in the face of public spending cuts.

Smith, one of Scotland’s best-selling jazz musicians for more than two decades, said local authorities in England and Wales had already caused “musical devastation” by cutting back free tuition.

The award-winning saxophonist won a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and was snapped up by Blue Note Records by the age of 22. But he credits his career to music lessons he had at Wester Hailes Education Centre, which led to him recording his first album at the age of just 16.

Writing on his Facebook page, Smith said: “This simply cannot be allowed to happen! If my parents had to pay for music lessons when I was 9 to 15 years old, I would never have learned the saxophone. We were a poor family; I didn’t even own an instrument. Wester Hailes Education Centre kindly loaned me one.

“Consequently, there would be no Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – no full-time Jazz Course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – no Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra; and I would be claiming benefits; talent untapped, wasted. I absolutely, categorically and without a doubt, highly disapprove of these proposed cuts. This will be the cause of a downward spiral effect that will last decades.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Around 5,000 pupils currently receive free tuition for a wide range of instruments. Instructors teach in small groups and individual lessons, and contribute to a wide range of school and central orchestras, choirs and ensembles.

“This proposal is not about putting a stop to these lessons, but exploring different ways of providing our music service. This could include the concept of a social enterprise model, which would introduce charging but still ensure Edinburgh’s most vulnerable pupils continue to receive free music tuition.”