Many moons ago, in the days when Northampton Borough Council provided free music lessons in schools, I scraped, in every sense of the word, my way to Grade 4 violin, alongside learning piano in the evening from a teacher who didn't believe in exams for non-paying pupils - I guess I got to about Grade 5 at my peak. It has therefore been interesting to watch start of the 'Classical Star' and to see these young, talented people competing for the CD contract.
I was first struck by the difference in ages of the competitors and the impact this had - a 14 year old with 25% less life experience than some of the others could hardly be expected to come across with the same levels of sophisitcation and self awareness. I was especially struck by the differences in the two violinists - one who works in a pub to get the money topay for occasional lessons and the other who studies privately in Russia. This isn't about 'right' and 'wrong' but I did find myself siding with the girl who pulls pints to pay her way, and who is clearly somewhat intimidated by her rival. Even though, to be fair, there were shots of the latter looking very uncertain and bemused too.
Part of me rails against the injustice that now in schools you have to pay for music lessons and that if you happen to be too poor to pay, then tough luck (but see * below). At least the girl in the competition had parents/relatives who had been able to support her as far as Grade 8, many of the children I meet aren't so fortunate - I was truly blessed to be a child when I was. I know there is no such thing as a level playing field, and in a sense this competition reflects that. Whilst I think the judgements made this week were fair, in terms of who was the least ready to progress towards a recording contract, it seemed they were also those less likely to have the opportunity so to do in the future. I am left wondering how gifted and talented youngsters from the 'back streets' get the breaks these days - no free music lessons, no university grants... How much star quality is undiscovered or undeveloped right on my door step? And what, if anything can I do about it?
* The school where I am governor currently has a bursary scheme for one year's worth of lessons available to a small number children on free meals, but that is funded from our rent payments. Whilst this is a great use of the revenue, it creates tension when we have to consider the costs of rental and the best use of our money in the service of the Kingdom. I'm happy enough that we subsidise children learning music, but most of my folk are ignorant of the fact and it seems are concerned only with our bottom line. Eeeh, it's a tricky one.
I shall watch how the competition unfolds with interest - and hope that it suceeds in showing that classical music is both enjoyable and accessible. May the best musician win!