Why music in schools shouldn’t be cut!

Last Autumn we brought together young people at Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, afrobeat-jazz band Kokoroko and jazz venue Church of Sound in a unique collaboration called Future Sound. Six months on, I caught up with the school’s head of music, Sophie Sayer [pictured, left of photo] to talk more about music’s transformative power.

Jennie: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background?

Sophie: I am a classical musician by training, a cellist. After reading music at university I trained to become a teacher, but still keep up the playing around London!

Jennie: How can being around music and musicians and playing an instrument at school make a difference for young people? 

Sophie: A lot of young people often don’t link the music they listen to every day and their music lessons in a classroom. By meeting a variety of professional musicians and getting the opportunity to make different kinds of music, they can start to connect the creative dots. We had a lovely moment the other day when an ex-student came back with his trio to record a Year 13s final recital, and he was reminiscing about his school days. He described how the music department had been a place where he was able to be himself and figure out his pathway in life. Sure, not all students are going to become professional musicians, but I hope that they are able to explore their identity and find inspiration or solace through the subject.

Jennie: Absolutely! But music and other arts subjects are facing significant government cuts, as we know. What’s the impact for schools and young people?

Sophie: Recently I saw a department in Sussex had created a crowd-funding page in order to try and continue music GCSE at their school. It makes me so sad that we are losing all of this opportunity. It is frustrating when the burden of budget cuts is placed on arts subjects despite the overwhelming evidence that they help improve achievement, mental health and social skills, as well as ensuring the continuation of our culture. It feels short sighted and unfair. The implication for equality and representation is especially difficult to ignore; as music making becomes increasingly difficult to access through state provision, we are left with a very imbalanced situation in which only those that can afford private tuition or ensemble fees are taking part.

Jennie: And why is is especially hard for young people who have challenges or stresses at home and are less likely to access the arts?

Sophie: If the arts becomes something that is seen as a luxury, then access becomes more and more difficult. As a consequence, we see that young people who already have very difficult lives are much less likely to have the opportunity to learn an instrument over an extended period or to visit galleries and museums in their spare time – it just doesn’t even register as a priority.

Jennie: In relation to Mossbourne why was Future Sound so valuable for you?

Sophie: It was so wonderful to have Kokoroko work with our students last year, they brought a real energy to their work and put in the effort to make personal connections with our students. I know that they have made a lasting impression, and several of our students have now expressed interest in pursuing music further when they leave school, which is really exciting! The gig was also a highlight. It blew expectations out of the water and I think a lot of depth of musicality was unearthed, which perhaps some students didn’t even realise they had. It was a very special evening.

Jennie: It was! Last question – I’d love to know what two tunes you’re listening to most at the moment?

Sophie: Alice Coltrane’s Turiya & Ramankrishna for the soul and any track from Layfullstop’s debut album Colour Reaction for the spirit.

Future Sound was kindly supported by PRS Foundation and Arts Council England. You can also help us develop the next generation of musicians – become a Trailblazer now!