Where do we go from here?

Music schools, the IAMS and music education in Ireland.

Since the establishment of the Irish Association of Music Schools (IAMS) in May 2002 the membership has been built up to include music schools, large and small, from all parts of Ireland. Successful inter-school concerts and masterclasses have been held, and links have been forged between the members and other music agencies. In the wider context IAMS is a member of the European Music Schools Union (EMU), an agency which has strong lobbying contacts within the EU.

So everything in the garden seems rosy, or is it? First I would like to ask some key questions. Why has it taken so long for Irish music schools to get organised? How is it that music schools in countries like Finland formed their own associations years ago and are longstanding members of the EMU? Perhaps one reason is that until relatively recently music in Ireland was not considered a serious business. It was on the fringe, a laudable but amateur activity, with connotations of the Victorian perception of music as an accomplishment for young ladies.

The change in this climate, like many changes in Ireland, has come suddenly. The substantial contribution of music to the national economy over the past twenty years has been acknowledged in numerous reports on the cultural industries. Meanwhile practitioners have found themselves catapulted into an entirely new situation where music has become a highly professional business. But has this change been reflected in increased support for music education? Since IAMS was founded what has happened in Ireland to gladden the hearts of music educators?

Since 2002 the Forum for Music in Ireland has held six plenary sessions, dealing with a wide range of relevant issues. Three substantial reports on music education have been produced: the Music Education Action Group’s ‘Music Education, the Poor Relation (2002), Frank Heneghan’s MEND (Music Education National Debate) Report, and the Music Network Feasibility Study Report (2003). In 2003 the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Education and Science hosted two music education presentations and a third, in conjunction with the Joint Committee for Arts, Sport, and Tourism, on the Music Network Feasibility Study. The writers and speakers made compelling cases for Irish music education but despite all their eloquence and enthusiasm there is a sense of déjà vu.

Attitudes need to change
What has happened since 2002 to help Irish music schools?

The Irish Academy for the Performing Arts did not happen; the new building for the Cork School of Music did not happen in time for Cork’s year as European City of Culture Despite the best efforts of Music Network and interested parties in several counties local music education services have not happened. The Music School at Waterford Institute of Technology continues to happen thanks to the stalwart efforts of staff, parents and other music organisations. The harsh reality is that many music schools throughout the country are surviving only because of the superhuman efforts of teachers and administrators.

This situation will not change until attitudes to music education in Ireland change, starting with the policy-makers. A new approach is needed from music schools to get the ear of politicians – and the permanent government: the civil servants. The Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin TD, is well-disposed to music education, and she is an astute politician. The Secretary-General of the Department, Brigid McManus, was closely involved with the arts earlier in her career.

In a keynote address to members of the Forum for Music in Ireland, Cecilia Keaveney TD described her experience when she was first elected to the Dáil of the instant lobbying from different farmers’ groups – beef on Monday, sheep on Tuesday – and she invited people from the arts to follow their example. I remember Tanya Banotti, CEO Theatre Forum, outlining her short, sharp campaign targeting the Government estimates, which was subsequently successful in getting increased funding for the sector. There is a lot to learn from the successful methods and indomitable spirit of the Special Olympics organisers in tapping local communities. Music schools around the country have a built-in advantage here with community involvement through parents and County Council Arts Officers.

Speaking at the launch of Culture Ireland, Minister John O’Donoghue made special mention of four young musicians who had provided the musical entertainment at the reception.

They are members of the Irish Youth Orchestra and represent a fine example of the excellent talent we have traditionally supported. We are justifiably proud of these young ambassadors and happy that the support we have given has helped to publicise and promote their immense ability.

In the words of Anne Woodworth of WIT music school:

Politicians talk proudly of the musicians who represent Ireland all over the world … but do they really think that these musicians just ‘happened’?

Or to quote Martin Drury at the Feasibility Study presentation:

We allow for things to happen but do not provide for them to happen.

It is time for IAMS to unite with other music education groups and to sing from the same hymn sheet. The challenge is to put music education on a new footing, not only for its proven cultural and aesthetic value but also for its benefits to the economy. The ultimate goal is long-term viability for Irish music schools, thus securing the future of music education in Ireland.

This is a version of a talk given by Dr Ita Beausang at the first National Conference of Music Schools which took place in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in March 2005. For more information on the IAMS, email the Secretary, aretemiskent [at] esatclear.ie

Published on 1 September 2005

Ita Beausang has recently retired from the School of Music and Drama in the Dublin Institute of Technology, where she held various teaching and administrative positions. Her research interests include music education in Ireland, Anglo-Irish music and music criticism.

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