top of page

It was the German music critic Oscar Schmitz, who in 1904 cast the slur on England as ‘the land without music’. He was talking about composers, but in his recent BBC Radio 3 series on Music Matters, English music critic Richard Morrison takes the jibe to heart and explores from many angles how impoverished our music scene may become as a result of Arts Council funding cuts and government apathy, some say hostility, towards music. The recent near closure of the BBC Singers, the relocation of English National Opera to Manchester, the axing of Glyndebourne Touring Opera’s funding and Britten Sinfonia’s outreach grant were the most dramatic events of last year. However, shortages of funds are felt by everyone everywhere - in addition, Brexit and our post Covid era have brought about the perfect storm in creating unprecedented difficulties for musicians who earn their livelihoods from music and organisations who provide live quality music outside London.

It is very timely that Richard Morrison, our most established and most prominent music critic, is speaking out now because the heart of the matter is that humans need music: it is fundamental to our healthy functioning as a society. In The World in Six Songs, brilliant neuroscientist and former music producer Dr. Daniel Levitin describes how music not only functions as a way of social bonding in joy, friendship, comfort and love and as a way of imparting knowledge, but more than this, he shows how music has shaped our brains. Music has played a crucial part in the evolution of our language and thought. Commonly in African tribes there isn’t a word for ‘musician’ -; it is not a separate concept because everyone is a musician and music forms the daily rituals of life. Judith Weir points out that at great occasions (such as the King’s Coronation and Queen’s funeral) there is always music - the two are connected, and she voices frustration that our government isn’t prepared to understand this.

Music is an irrepressible force in us and despite cuts the British music scene flourishes in all kinds of ways: we have a vibrant amateur choral scene (and many amateur orchestras), we have produced international artists who are Titans on the world stage and renowned specialist music schools cultivating not only exceptional musicians but ambassadors who acknowledge their social role as musicians in their communities.

Richard Morrison rightly is infuriated with the Arts Council and the musically illiterate people who make these ill-informed decisions. Yet, the Arts Council was founded in 1946 in an entirely different climate when the baseline was low and the country was recovering from war. Times have evolved, they have many things to fund. Additionally, we are in a new digital age where music is ubiquitous, over-produced and free, massively de-valuing musicians’ craft and the concept of live music. What was delightful to experience during the pandemic was the joy with which people relished hearing live music again and how much they appreciated it, although it feels like a short-lived revelation now. What we need to regain, and very soon, is a sense that music belongs to us and that we have the tools to express ourselves to each other without inhibition, so music education is very important. There needs to be an infrastructure of free music education in all schools taught by properly trained teachers. Music must be valued and funded or we are impoverishing our future generations and depriving them of a type of psychological health. In our fractured (and fractious) society we need what music is able to provide us with: the means to bond and to create meaningful connections with each other. Musicians who have been to college and music schools must make it their priority and responsibility to share skills and enable music-making in their communities by setting up groups, running choirs, teaching children and providing opportunities for sing-alongs wherever they can.

As violinist Nicola Benedetti eloquently says:

“We need any single human being that has creativity, ideas, to elevate what they have to give and to try to put some diligent execution around those ideas. We are not going to just preserve our way out of these problems, they’re too great… We need real innovation…people have to come up with different methods and systems that somehow can work congruently with the systems that we have that are not working for us.”

bottom of page