Gina Davidson: Don’t put price on joy of music

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FIRST there was Mr McKee with his sparkly blue eyes behind small, round glasses, a mad mop of curls and a demeanour straight out of a hippy camp. We met behind the school stage in a very small room and he clapped his hands in a rhythm which I had to repeat, hummed a tune I had to echo.

My musical reiterations must have been good enough for I was given an instrument. A shiny, silver euphonium almost bigger than me – lugging it to and from school led to many bruised shins from the hard, blue, awkwardly-shaped case it travelled in.

Winning a place on Mr McKee’s list of pupils who would receive weekly instrument tuition was like being given a pass into another world; a world of Dvorak and Glenn Miller, the Beatles and Beethoven. Of being able to read their works of art and understand them; to play them.

The music was wonderful. But it was just one benefit of the classes. In primary seven the few of us who had lessons would, once a week, walk from school to the bus stop at the Kaimes crossroads, clutching 12p in school bus tokens. We’d travel, unsupervised, to Tollcross Primary to rehearse with the Edinburgh Primary Schools Orchestra.

There we met kids our age from other schools throughout the city. There we were treated as if we were mature individuals who could easily navigate the LRT timetable and the crossing of Lothian Road. With the music had come a little

freedom.

Next there was Mr Chessman with his white hair, smelly pipe, a conductor’s baton which would be wielded ferociously against the music stand and a leg which seemed to constantly twitch whenever there was music playing.

We met in a small room near the top of the supposedly-haunted Bruntsfield House and he let me ditch the unwieldy euphonium for the trumpet.

There were many more pupils taking music classes then. Perhaps the result of parental influence given the middle-class nature of Gillespie’s compared to Burdiehouse Primary. There playing an instrument marked you out as “different” – never a good thing.

But music is a good thing; a wonderful thing. The wonder of that feeling the first time I could read the music in front of me and play a

recognisable tune has never left me. If there is one thing I can safely say school taught me it was how to read and appreciate music.

Sadly I was never going to be an Alison Balsom, a decided lack of natural talent saw to that. But look at Tommy Smith. If it weren’t for free music tuition at his Wester Hailes school – and the instrument that came with it – then the likelihood of his being a world-famous jazz saxophonist now is highly unlikely.

How would he ever have known he had that raw talent unless he was given the chance to find out? Unsurprisingly he’s become a very vocal critic of Edinburgh council’s plans for music tuition which include more cutbacks and talk of a “social enterprise” taking it over and charging parents – apart from the poorest.

Means-tested music classes, now there’s a phrase which sums up the current state of education in Scotland.

Perhaps the council should take a look at what’s happened in next-door Midlothian. Charges were introduced at £168 for the year and the numbers of pupils taking music fell dramatically (I’ve been told in one primary from 24 to just six kids). As a result – and despite budgetary pressures – the council is about to scrap the fee to encourage more children to take it up again.

It can never have been cost effective for councils to offer music tuition, especially of the one-to-one variety. Instruments are expensive, sheet music is expensive, staff are expensive. But they did it. And they did it in the 1970s when people were working three-day weeks, and the national grid kept closing down.

The benefits of learning a musical instrument are priceless. Music goes to the heart and soul of what people are about; what education should be about. Being curious, opening doors, offering opportunity.

The curriculum for excellence is all about expanding opportunities for children, of recognising and encouraging all the talents. Music provides self-expression, self-discipline and self-worth. Why wouldn’t an education service see the need to ensure that it is available to the children in its care?

Companionship is the Christmas gift we can all give

AS we all rush around Christmas shopping, going on our work nights out, visiting Winter Wonderland, a new report by the Samaritans proves that for some people Christmas is the worst time of year.

Around 17 per cent of us feel that this is the loneliest time of the year and the survey of 1600 adults also found that 6 per cent of people spend Christmas on their own. Little wonder that there were nearly 200,000 calls to the Samaritans last Christmas.

Maybe if you know someone will be on their own on Christmas Day you could make that turkey go further and invite them round? Of course they might want to be on their own, but they might also be desperately pleased to have somewhere to go, someone to talk to. It’s a gift anyone can give.

Retirement will be peaceful after Tee’s troubles

SO Gillian Tee has fallen on her sword and will retire at the end of this month from her role as director of communities and families with the council. She’s the fifth director of services with Edinburgh council to go in the last year or so, and the one with the biggest portfolio, covering education.

She’s not had her troubles to seek in her job in recent times as proved by the Cameron House debacle and the apology chief exec Andrew Kerr had to make on her department’s behalf to the family of a child with autism. No doubt retirement will be peaceful.

When sex is rape

JOHN Rarity, 50, from Dechmont was jailed this week for three-and-a-half years for a crime he committed when he was 17. The headline and story of the trial said he’d been jailed for “sex with an under-age girl”. That’s not sex, that’s rape. Let’s never forget that.