Bad news and good news

Very scary story linked from ArtsJournal today — it says that in England, not enough kids are learning to play less popular orchestral instruments, like the trombone, bassoon, oboe, or french horn.

Here’s a quote:

Gavin Henderson, principal of Trinity College of Music in London and chairman of Youth Music, the government advisory group behind [a plan to do something about the problem], said the future of traditional music was at stake. “Orchestras are facing difficulties due to the lack of young, high quality players,” he said.

While 48,657 pupils have school flute lessons in England and 52,484 learn the guitar, only 1,106 are taught the bassoon and 915 the tuba.

The rescue plan hopes to make lottery money available to schools, so the schools can buy instruments for students to play. The high cost of bassoons (and other instruments, too) is said to be one reason students don’t learn to play them.

This is the second story like this I’ve read out of Britain. Do we have similar troubles here in the US? A while ago, I asked the head of one of America’s leading music schools, somebody who really knows what’s going on in music education, even in small towns, whether enough Americans are studying orchestral instruments. He said we don’t have the British problem, though just recently he told me that only kids from well-off families learn the bassoon, because only families with money can afford to buy one.

Still, he didn’t think we have a crisis in instrumental study here. In fact, from everything I’ve heard, youth orchestras are booming all over the country — and the musicians in professional orchestras are now, on the average, younger than their audience! That’s something you can see for yourself at most orchestra concerts. (And when the Rolling Stones came through Philadelphia on their last tour, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a cute little story, showing that the Philadelphia Orchestra was, on the average, younger than the Stones.)

Odd but very hopeful development, at a time when classical music is looking so hard for a younger audience. Something to be thankful for — and happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 

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