Editorial: For Every Irish Musician

Music education and the musical country

Not for the first time, the issue of music education is raised in this magazine. For every Irish musician, Ireland’s lack of focus in this regard is an inescapable niggle. On this occasion, the composer Bill Whelan, in a wide-ranging interview, reminds us that our celebration of ourselves as a musical country has not been transformed into positive, practical action.

One could look to the Leaving Certificate figures for corroboration. Among 50,872 students in 2007, less than 10% (4,857) took a Music examination. It is no doubt a welcome increase on the rather stunning figure of 1,037 (2%) in 1998, but the increase was caused by essentially making the exam easier, not because of any sweeping national change in our approach to music education.

It points to the fact that most children simply do not have the opportunity to develop a facility for music. In contrast, our schools seem to be able to encourage a substantial interest in arts practice: almost 20% (10,133) of Leaving Cert students in 2007 undertook an Art examination, putting it up there with popular subjects like History (22%).

There is a subtle irony for Ireland in the fact that the composer of Riverdance, the music–theatre spectacle which brought the country’s global reputation as a musical country to a whole new level, is compelled to question the nurturing of that same musical life.

Last September, the then Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin TD, said, ‘Music education allows students experience creativity, emotion, wonderment and sensitivity. It also helps develop reading skills, memory, anticipation and concentration which carry though all areas of learning’, and yet in almost four years as Minister, with two substantial reports on arts education on her desk, the issue remained unaddressed. We must urge the new Minister, Batt O’Keeffe TD, to do better.

Toner Quinn


Published on 1 July 2008

Toner Quinn is Editor of The Journal of Music. His website is www.tonerquinn.com.

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