Time for the State to Honour its Commitment

Music Network – Ireland’s national music development organisation – has recently proposed an innovative system of national music education services based on national research. Here, Martin Drury, chairman of the report’s advisory group, introduces an initiative that could transform the musical, cultural and community life of towns and townlands throughout the country.In introducing Music Network’s report on the feasibility of a national system of local music education services, and underlining some of its key features, I want to begin by locating it within a wider frame of reference to do with notions of citizenship and of social equality.

The first intervention the State makes in our lives is to insist that our birth is registered. There is from the day of our birth a process of claiming us as citizens, so beginning a life-long relationship between the State and the private citizen, a relationship often characterised by a tension between rights and responsibilities.

The next significant intervention by the State is the shaping of each citizen’s mind, his or her intellectual and personal formation, through compulsory education via a national curriculum. A transaction is proposed between the claims of the State and the rights of the individual. The proposition is that for a dozen years or so the State insists the young citizen attends school and follows a largely prescribed course of learning. That is a weighty demand, but the counterweight is the complementary proposition that the State acknowledges its responsibilities to educate the whole child, and declares its commitment, through a curriculum distinguished by breadth and balance, to allow the young citizen develop the full range of their potential, to nurture the multiplicity of intelligences we all have or potentially have.

Like many (or most) human transactions, this educational contract between the State and the private citizen has many shortcomings. The past decade has seen successive Ministers for the Arts and Ministers for Education, and key senior officials of both Departments, acknowledge that one such shortcoming is the relative failure of the Irish State to fully honour its commitment to develop and nurture the artistic and aesthetic intelligence of young citizens. The relative neglect of the arts (even acknowledging the greater attention devoted to this area in recent years) remains a significant deficit.

To address that deficit, generations of parents have intervened to the benefit of their own children’s development, and while one cannot but applaud their commitment to their children, their private action and the State’s partial action combine to ensure that in Ireland musical intelligence is to some extent determined by geography and to a considerable extent by socio-economic circumstance. The educational and cultural consequences of this fact are significant and remain a challenge to all those who believe that the arts are primary human disciplines, ways of knowing, and therefore that arts education is a fundamental clause within the educational contract made between the State and the individual citizen. That challenge is key to the impulse behind Music Network’s report document.

This document is prescriptive rather than diagnostic. Normally in this situation one adopts an apologetic tone and declares ‘we have no wish to be prescriptive’. However, while this is not the final word (and indeed it is acknowledged that there will be an implementation phase) the terms of reference were to propose a model and that is what we has been done. There has been enough diagnosis. This study does not describe the problem, but rather it prescribes a solution.

The model proposed is a twin-engined service. One engine is the curriculum support service which (in collaboration with local/regional education centres) would work to provide primary and secondary teachers with support through courses, workshops, projects and resources that would enrich their teaching of music and their personal confidence and professional competence in this domain. The second engine is a locally-based vocal and instrumental music tuition service.

Structurally the model has a national framework (the National Music Education Council – NMEC) which interlocks with other existing national structures and which oversees/guarantees/assures the quality, consistency and renewal of the service. Complementing the NMEC, and operating locally are LMESP (Local Music Education Service Partnerships) developed under the aegis of City and County Development Boards and involving the VEC, the Local Authority, the regional education centre, local primary/secondary schools, and local arts/music providers. In short, the model proposes that the provision of a local music education service is a matter where several agencies should find common cause to the benefit of the local community. Structurally this demonstrates the kind of ‘joined-up thinking’ that we are all being exhorted to follow.

It is important to stress that while overseen, accredited and ‘macro-designed’ by the NMEC, the model allows for considerable local flexibility to take account of local circumstance and to reflect local music traditions and cultural interests and strengths.

Many will ask if this is not an ‘unrealistic’ report, given the economic climate and the many pressing claims on the public purse. I have several responses to that question and to the implications that underpin it:

• Music is a primary human enterprise. If you don’t believe that, then you are unlikely to be persuaded by this report. (But I would welcome the chance to debate – with all-comers! – this primacy of music and the arts.)
• This study advocates a steady, incremental approach to developing the model it sets out. It would probably take fifteen years for it to be fully implemented. It is not a question of ‘throwing a switch’. Even if you wanted to do that, you couldn’t. But we must begin to address the deficit I referred to at the beginning and a strategically-driven, planned approach is what’s required. Doing nothing is not a credible option.
• Recently the proposal to develop IAPA (the Irish Academy of Performing Arts) has been abandoned or at least shelved. It would have represented the fourth tier. We would ask that some of the political will, the commitment and the resources which had been earmarked for IAPA are now diverted to supporting the implementation of the model we propose which many believe is a more pressing and realistic option.
• In the 1980s we lived through a decade of recession and nothing was done to address the issue of music education. In the 1990s we lived through a decade of economic expansion and unparalleled national wealth and nothing was done about music education. The truth is that this is less a matter of the availability of resources than it is about political will. It is that will and that leadership that we look to now, now that the study commissioned by Government has been submitted.

This report resonates with the values of the current Arts Plan; it resonates with the values of the White Paper on Adult Education (Learning For Life) published in 2000 and with the values of the National Children’s Strategy (Our Children – Their Lives) published in the same year; it resonates with the values of the strategic thinking behind Better Local Government and the City/County Development Plans arising from that process; it resonates with the values of decentralisation, spatial planning and rural and community development which inform so much macro-planning by government.

In short this model of Local Music Education Services needs to be understood as creating a resource that honours the fundamental commitment of the State to develop the full range of human intelligence of the individual citizen, irrespective of their geographical location and their social and economic circumstances.

So this is the report – it is available free from Music Network. Now we need you, at local and national level, to lobby, cajole, persuade, agitate and otherwise inform your local public representatives (councillors and TDs) to ensure that this report becomes a basis for action in the interests of public service arts education that will enrich us all as individual citizens and as communities.

To obtain a copy of the report, email info [at] musicnetwork.ie; visit their website at www.musicnetwork.ie/musrep03.html; phone 01-6719429; or fax 01-6719430.

Published on 1 September 2003

Martin Drury (Theatre Director and Arts Consultant) was the Independent Chairman of the Expert Advisory Group that oversaw the research and development of Music Network’s report. 

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