Economy and Society: Contribution of Music

John Howell Excerpts
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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I am proud of Manchester’s great musical tradition, which includes our world-class orchestras, the Hallé, the Manchester Camerata and the BBC Philharmonic—whose guests are seen at concerts on a number of occasions—and our superb music institutions, Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music. As we have heard, they make a great social, economic and cultural contribution, not just to Greater Manchester and our region but nationally and around the world.

There is a massive payback on the investment that we make into the music sector, but funding is a real problem, especially for regional orchestras and musicians. What more can the Minister do to work with the Treasury to encourage and support regional philanthropy, including through possible fiscal measures? I also make the case for sustainable and secure public funding. That will soon be a particular issue for the BBC Philharmonic, as consideration is given to the future of the licence fee.

Our music institutions have all highlighted to me the importance of developing a pipeline of talent. Our great orchestras, college, music school and music services have adopted a partnership approach. I pay particular tribute to the Trafford music service, led by the amazing Ruth O’Keefe, which is part of the Greater Manchester music hub and gives many children in Trafford the opportunity to develop their musical potential.

As I have said, developing talent to its full potential through classical and intensive training is important, not just to the classical music sector; those musicians also provide the bedrock of all other genres, including film, pop and TV music. Musical education is very important to allowing young people to achieve their full potential through the highest quality classroom music activities, instrumental lessons and participation in choirs, bands and groups.

One issue that I have been asked to raise in particular, which the Minister could perhaps discuss with his counterparts in the Department for Education, is chaperone licensing. The music service is subject to stringent chaperone licensing, similar to commercial businesses and different from what would be required for schools more generally. That puts real cost and administrative burdens on the music service. Is the Minister prepared to pursue the concerns that the music services are raising with me with his colleagues in the DFE?

The work that is done by our music service and in our schools and classrooms is supplemented by our orchestras’ own fabulous activities. The Hallé Orchestra, for example, has welcomed literally tens of thousands to the Bridgewater Hall to perform and train with its own professional musicians. The BBC Philharmonic’s “Ten pieces” and “Bring the Noise” programmes have also been very well received.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) rightly pointed out the benefits of music in reaching some of our most disadvantaged and marginalised communities. We see some innovative approaches to this work, for example by the BBC Philharmonic again, partnering with the Royal Northern College of Music on the Pathfinder scheme. I also join him in commending the excellent work of the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins. I have seen its work in my constituency with people with learning difficulties, with refugees and with people with dementia; it has the power to transform and light up those people’s lives.

Nordoff Robbins believes, and I agree, that everyone should have the right to participate in music in ways that meet their needs. There is a particular opportunity, therefore, to develop music therapy in the context of social prescribing. Again, I wonder whether that is something the Minister could discuss with his counterparts, this time in the Department of Health and Social Care.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:01 p.m.

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.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:05 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on securing this debate and on making such a great speech.

I am very grateful for the opportunity today to speak about music, particularly live music venues, which I always take the opportunity to champion because they are very precious and, as we have heard today, constantly under threat. I represent a city centre constituency, in a city known not just across the UK but around the world for its songs, its singers and its musicians.

We have a very rich cultural history in Cardiff, and I am determined that we will have a rich cultural future too. To ensure that that happens, we need to ensure that our school music teachers have the resources and time to inspire pupils from the earliest age to participate in music and to understand the joy and wellbeing, which have been discussed today, and the opportunities that singing or playing an instrument can bring.

We know, though, that the past 10 years of Government austerity and the savage cuts to the Welsh budget have made the provision of music much more difficult. I think that is the pattern across the UK. I pay tribute to the music teachers up and down the country who do such a great job—actually, for them it is not a job but a vocation—in such difficult circumstances. But it is not only the teachers; it is the talented volunteers who conduct our orchestras, who transport children and their instruments to eisteddfods and who fight for venue space and practice venues every day of the week.

In the centre of my constituency we have independent live music venues of all types and sizes, catering for every possible taste. I promise hon. Members that if they come to Cardiff Central, on every night of the week they will be able to listen to great live music of some type or another, from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the incredible auditorium that we have at Saint David’s Hall and the noise bowl of the Principality Stadium, where I saw the Rolling Stones, to Fuel Rock Club, Clwb Ifor Bach and the Globe.

However, since I was elected in 2015, it feels as though colleagues and I have been continuously fighting to save live music venues across the constituency, from the Womanby Street campaign to saving Guildford Crescent and Gwdihŵ and, just this week, another live music venue, 10 Feet Tall, a small but long-standing venue under threat of closure. We have built a grassroots movement in Cardiff, with Daniel Minty from Minty’s Gig Guide, the Music Venue Trust, the Musicians Union and UK Music, to value and support venues and to try to save as many as possible.

Our Labour council in Cardiff has set up a music board to champion our music scene locally, nationally and internationally, and to protect and promote music at grassroots and all levels. I am proud that our Welsh Labour Government was the first Government in the UK to introduce the agent of change principle into planning guidance and to help to protect live music venues. Along with colleagues here, I co-sponsored the Bill by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) to do the same in England, and I worked with a Labour colleague to do that in Scotland too.

I will briefly mention our Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on our live music inquiry, which took detailed and comprehensive evidence from across the sector and made a series of recommendations to the Government to protect and enhance the contribution of live music to our economy and society. We know what the problems are, and we have heard about them today. They include business rates, planning development pressures, the need to extend creative industries tax reliefs and parity of funding for grassroots venues through bodies such as the Arts Council. Talking of arts councils, yes, we need to continue to support high arts and culture, but I also want those kids who are setting up their first band in their mum’s garage to have parity of support.