January 17th, 2007


Everyone suddenly burst out singing...

...only it seems they don’t, any more. Education Secretary Alan Johnson, or Postman Pat as Simon Heffer always calls him so disparagingly, is to provide extra funding to promote singing in schools. Howard Goodall is to be the new Singing Tsar. Bolting horses and stable doors come to mind. This government has cut back on peripatetic music teachers and cluttered up the curriculum so that it’s hard for schools to find time for music. This applies to state schools rather than private ones and to some state schools more than others. Anyone who watched the recent reality TV show The Choir will have been shocked to see how unused the teenagers were to singing. I read an article recently by Julian Lloyd Webber in which he said that when he was at The Royal College of Music (1970s?) he was one of a tiny minority of students from public schools. Now, he says, the proportions are exactly reversed. This is disgraceful; a great loss of talent and yet more evidence of working class children being let down by a system which is supposed to promote equality of opportunity. There is a bias against classical music because of a fear that children won’t like it: the usual and unnecessary low expectations. I’m reminded of a calypso which appeared, I think in Private Eye, at a time when it was reported that some Afro-Caribbean families were sending their children to school back in the West Indies. Part of it went:
‘English education is crap,
All we learn is calypso and rap.’

When I was little our mother sang to us and we heard nursery rhymes on Listen with Mother. We sang at Infant School and at Junior School we joined in with the BBC’s Singing Together and Rhythm and Melody programmes. As a result of those, my head is full of British folk songs, including a lot of seditious Jacobite songs which for some reason were favourites of the producers. At senior school the entire school had hymn practice once a week and we had a weekly music lesson even in the sixth form, whether we were taking music exams or not. All this as well as O and A- Level lessons. I don’t see why it will take £10m of taxpayers’ money to get people to sing in schools unless teachers have forgotten how to sing. Just shows how hard it is to get something back once you’ve let it go slip sliding away.

A Little Light Reading

A mystery indisposition has meant that I’ve spent much of the last two days lying on the sofa, reading. So it was lucky for me that at the market last Saturday I bought very cheaply three books by Alexander McCall Smith which I hadn’t read before. First I read Espresso Tales, more news from 44 Scotland Street. This is taken from a serial which the prolific author writes for The Scotsman and I love it. It is a continuous narrative which need never have an end. It makes me repeat what I said before in a previous post: that there are many similarities between McCall Smith and that other, late, Scottish writer of light fiction, O Douglas. In Espresso Tales people meet, eat, drink coffee, talk. Occasionally something interesting will happen to them. That’s it. Now re-title one of O Douglas’s books Tea Tales and where’s the difference? People meet, eat, drink tea, talk. Occasionally something interesting will happen to them. That’s it. In Blue Shoes and Happiness, which I’m reading now, Mma Makutsi says, “these small things are important for people. Mma Ramotswe has often told me that our lives are made up of small things. And I think she is right.” Now read The Day of Small Things by O Douglas. I rest my case.

As well as writing all these books, McCall Smith has a web site where, for example, he tells Americans where to buy bush tea. I plan to try it myself.