If music be the food of love…….

All three of the young people here started their musical experiences in years 6 and 7 in schools in deprived parts of Liverpool. They played for us yesterday at the Phil with confidence and vitality.

Some people would say that yesterday I took some time off from my real work as a councillor to go with Erica to a concert given by young people from two of the most deprived wards in Liverpool at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

I would disagree. Part of the work of a councillor is to go and support great people doing wonderful things in our communities. Yesterday was absolutely wonderful.

In total about 300 young people came to sing, play a variety of musical instruments in a variety of settings. We heard classical music, jazz, locally inspired and written music in a wonderful medley of sound and pleasure. All of the performers were under 11 (well except for their teachers of course who joined in with some of the difficult bits). My favourite was a song written by two young junior school children about diversity which had music written for the entire orchestra by one of the Phil’s professional musicians.

There is no doubt in my mind that this experience will stay with those young people for the whole of their lives. Most of them will not go on to fully develop their musical talent but some will. We met yesterday with 18 years olds playing to a very high level who had themselves started at the age of 7 or 8. Some have gone on to start advanced courses which will enable them to play professionally if that is what they choose.

Getting a career from music is not necessarily the aim of the programme. The aim is to try and even up the scales when it comes to musical experience. Too often our youth orchestras and the like are full of children who come from middle class backgrounds whose parents have the time and the resources to support their endeavours. Why should children who come from poorer backgrounds whose parents are equally supportive not enjoy the same experience.

As I watched the children perform I could see confidence in them growing by the minute. Playing in a place like a major concert hall is a daunting experience even for professionals. These youngsters took it in their stride!

It is always easy to characterise classical music as just a middle or upper class preserve and it is true that this is what you see when you go to many a performance at the Phil. But it does not have to be that way. The schools programme exists not only because Liverpool Council, the Arts Council and other organisations back this work but because a lot of sponsorship comes from the Philharmonic regulars. They also turned up in force to enjoy the programme.

So why classical music? Do I regard it as THE form of music because I happen to like it? Do I think it superior to other musical forms on that basis. Absolutely not. Any music that people enjoy playing or listening to is good music. Whether you like that particular genre is a matter of taste and not intelligence or an overwhelming cultural superiority.

What I do believe is that people should have the freedom to experiment a try and range of cultures and opportunities and what better time to do it when they are young? The children playing yesterday were incredibly proud to be there as were their Mums and Dads (and grandmas and grandpas!)

Pop cultures are readily available in a variety of formats. They are almost all-pervasive. Classical music is not as well known. Yes, there are two national radio stations who provide nothing but classical music. They are enjoyed by millions of people but largely unknown outside those millions. Or perhaps maybe, the position is not they are unknown, but a lot of people assume that the music is too highbrow and not for them. Such thoughts would have been easily dispelled yesterday.

I believe that music plays a vital part in our community and in our mental health. Playing it usually means teamwork and community and social interaction. This does not have to be formal it can be just for fun. More than 100 ukelele plays recently turned up to play together at the Florence Institute in Liverpool.

They were all, I’ll put it gently, at the other end of the age range from those I saw yesterday, but they go to enjoy, to take part, to deliver outputs in partnership with loads of other people. That keeps them mentally alert, keeps them fit, keeps them active provides them with challenges none of which would be achieved if they just sit at home watching the telly.

Two of my neighbours are professional cellists. One is the internationally renowned Jonathan Aasgaard . who is the principal cellist at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. His wife, Georgina, uses her cello as an important therapeutic tool through an community outreach programme run by the RLPO and Merseycare. She plays in prisons and community centres, in hospitals and pubs. She is part of a network of highly talented musicians who help our communities through music. Indeed, she is currently undertaking a doctorate on the subject to get more people understanding that Proust can be better than pills, and Mendelsohn can be better than medicine.

My thanks and congratulations go to all those who took part in yesterday’s event. It took a lot of organisational activity by the Philharmonic staff, music teachers and parents to make it work. It took enthusiasm from the children to make it sparkle. It is a concert that I really enjoyed and will book for next year as soon as the date become available.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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