Economy and Society: Contribution of Music DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Jo StevensMain Page: Jo Stevens (Labour - Cardiff Central)
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. It is also a great pleasure to participate in a debate with so many members of MP4 here on the Front Benches. I feel humbled in their presence and I hope they will give us a rendition later in the debate.
I am well aware of the economic benefits of the music industry; my son composes music for films, so I see the inside of that industry from a family point of view. However, I will concentrate here on the benefit to society. People may remember that Edward Elgar once said:
“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us! The world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.”
However, I think those days have long passed.
A good example of that is in the availability of organists. I happen to be an organist myself, so I speak from personal experience. The lack of organists is much more important than the lack of people going to church, and shows the inability of young people’s education to pick out the talent that exists and to encourage young people to go on to play the organ and to develop it. That must be tied in with what the Arts Council has asked for in terms of a diverse and appropriate potential workforce—a point that it is making very forcefully.
There are two other examples that I would give of how music affects society, both from my own constituency. The first is an organisation called Not a Choir. It is actually a choir, but it is for people who have never sung before, believe that they cannot sing or in some way feel embarrassed about trying to sing. It has given the people who sing with it a tremendous amount of solidarity with each other. It has taken away a lot of the loneliness they feel by allowing them to participate and perform together. They perform publicly together, and their performances are very much appreciated by the people who listen to them and in the villages around them.
The second example is a charity in my constituency called Music for Autism, which is run by the conductor of the Orchestra of St John’s. He gets members of the orchestra to work with young autistic people and provide them with a good music therapy experience. It is a delight to watch not just the young autistic people’s ability to latch on to the music and their being helped with it, but also how much the musicians who participate get out of it. We only have to see their faces when they are performing to realise that this is something worth doing.
I suggest to the Minister that more needs to be put into education for musicians and talent spotting of musicians, and also that more needs to be put into efforts to ensure that music is at the heart of our communities, both now and in the future.
On the subject of the Select Committee report on supporting community music venues, does the hon. Lady agree with me that it is also important that local towns have a robust plan for their own areas to support venues? Folkestone in my constituency has launched a music town initiative. It is important that local authorities work with venues to support them both in terms of business rates and how they sit with the local planning regulations as well.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh, and a pleasure to get the opportunity to big up my own constituency of Glasgow Central, which I am sure must be among the most musical constituencies in the country. We have not only been awarded a UNESCO City of Music status—the only city in the UK other than Liverpool to have that status—but we have a wealth of different venues and talent in the city.
We are at the moment in the midst of Celtic Connections, an event founded in 1994 to give light to cold winter nights in January and to bring people into the city, and it now has a programme of more than 300 events over 18 days, with 2,100 musicians from about 50 countries. In addition to having events within venues in the city, it also works in the community through an education programme to involve the next generation, and this year, for the first time, through Celtic Connections in the Community, it is working with BEMIS to extend it to people with ethnic minority backgrounds within the city as well, which is really important when we talk about traditional folk music and making sure that it reaches and involves as many people as possible.
We also have within the constituency iconic venues such as the Barrowland Ballroom, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, the Hydro and the SEC. The Hydro, which opened in September 2013, brought £131 million to the city in its first year. It has helped the regeneration of Finnieston, where it is now impossible to get a bad meal, and has brought new people and new growth into the area, providing the jobs that go with that as well.
We are incredibly lucky to have the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the constituency as well. When I went on a tour of the RCS, every door that was opened would bring some delight, with different types of music being played in different ways and people making music together who might not have found each other otherwise. It is a real boon to have that in the city.
We also have organisations such as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra, Scottish Opera, and younger bands such as SambaYaBamba— who played outside in Parliament Square on one occasion, which stopped the traffic in the city. It is great to see such joy being shared. For young people we have a Big Noise Sistema orchestra, based in Govanhill since 2013. In recognition of some of the work of Big Noise, Nicola Killean, the CEO, got an OBE in the new year’s honours. They work with children in Govanhill, from St Bride’s, Holy Cross, Annette Street and Cuthbertson primaries and nurseries, and with Holyrood Secondary. They work with 1,200 children a week, bringing together children who have very different backgrounds—many children in Govanhill do not have English as a first language—and all the outcomes from the project have been extraordinary. As I said, in an area where children might not have much English, they can communicate with music and enhance their abilities. All the outcomes from this project found by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health have noted how it increased confidence, academic skills, resilience and happiness. I am not quite sure how we measure happiness, but it is certainly very much worth investing in for the good of the community.
I also want to mention the risk, which is something for the Minister to take away to the Home Office. There are significant risks in the way the Home Office conducts itself, and risks with Brexit with regard to visas and with the ability of artists to move and transport equipment. Donald Shaw of Celtic Connections has flagged that in the press. He mentioned particularly the risks for American people looking to book to come here and the way in which African and Indian artists are treated. He says they are treated very badly in the application process and that it is all about suspicion rather than welcome from the UK. Last year, six artists from the Devasitham Charitable Foundation in Chennai were unable to come when two blind artists were not allowed a visa from the Home Office. I ask the Minister to reflect on that and on the success story of music in Glasgow and in Scotland and do all that he can to make sure that that continues in future.