Tag Archives: Music

Do you know what to study?

Below is a great letter from Paul Archibald in response to an article written by Nicky Morgan The Education Secretary here in the UK.


I love it because it shows how everyone’s life is different, the wonders that are available to anyone if you only do what feels good and right for you.

For me this is everything no matter where your life interests or studies take you.

“The Education Secretary says that too many teenagers are making GCSE and A-level course choices at school that ultimately hold them back for the rest of their life”

Dear Nicky Morgan
Education Secretary

For those of us involved in the arts your statements concerning the value of choosing a career in arts and humanities have come as a shock. To say to young people that these subjects, if studied to degree level, will hold them back and restrict their future career path is misguided and extremely misleading. I think you are wise to highlight the importance and value of physical sciences, engineering and technology degrees but surely not at the expense of age-old disciplines such as Classics, Languages, History, Literature, Music, Theatre, Dance, Philosophy and, of course, your own area of specialism, Law.

Please allow me to offer a personal perspective on why I would wish you to reconsider your view. I am sure my story can be echoed by countless other poor souls who, as a result of a lifetime of study, thought and consideration within the area of arts and humanities, have been ‘held back’ or ‘disadvantaged’ by their choice of career.

As a brass player, I’m a stereotype I’m afraid. Northern lad born in Yorkshire, my dad descended from generations of miners in the North East of England, my mum born illegitimately and eventually, as a result of an advert in a local paper in Nottingham, adopted by a family living in the city. My parents met each other through the Salvation Army and hence, when I came along, my musical influence was firmly routed in the sound of brass, and in particular, the sound of brass bands.

It was wonderful. My brother and I spent 7 days a week playing our beaten up brass instruments – yes, it was straight out of the classic film, Brassed Off – soaking up the world of music, music, music. No orchestras, no dinner jackets or evening dress – that came later. Just hymn tunes, assorted arrangements and selections, marches, seasonal christmas carols and more hymn tunes with the band

Meanwhile, at school, I did well enough to pass my 11 plus and was sent to Eccles Grammar School near Manchester. A few years later, a move back to the north east by my parents, meant that I spend the last three years of my school life in a comprehensive school on a council estate in Darlington, County Durham. I went from being quite a bright lad at primary and grammar school to a fuzzy-headed dunce at the comprehensive who only collected a few O levels and a hopeless collection of CSEs. Throughout this I practiced, practiced, practiced….

I was 17 years old and, one Sunday afternoon, I played a solo with my band and a member of the audience told me I should go and study with him at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I’d never heard of it or him but later discovered he was principal trumpet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a famous teacher. My parents duly packed me off and after three years of study I succesfully auditioned for a position in the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

How on earth did this transformation take place? In a few years I went from playing football in alleyways in the mining town of Ashington, gradually doing ok at a good school in Manchester then flunking big time in a council estate comprehensive but, somehow at the age of 21 becoming a member of one of the most prestigious and elite classical organisations in the musical world?

It couldn’t be my interest in music because, according to you, music holds me back. Music makes me disadvantaged. Music is most definitely not a good career choice. You tell me the more practical disciplines should be studied to “keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers”. But, as a kid from the north with parents who gave their life to serving in the Salvation Army for a pittance, my chosen career takes me to every continent in the world and allows me to meet great musicians such as Paul McCartney, Sir Simon Rattle, Bob Geldoff and composer John Williams. Add a few royals such as Prince Edward and Prince Charles and, of course, some politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath and you can see that a life in the arts can be quite colourful. I also meet the severely autistic in Hampshire, the aged and infirm at a dilapidated care centre in Trinidad, kids at an orphanage in Sri Lanka, the disadvantaged in Burma, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. A few weeks ago I mix and perform with musicians who know about hardship as their country is tormented by conflict in Ukraine.

But this has to be a mistake. This rich and varied life that has been my privilege – a life full of interest, diversity, challenge and contradiction just isn’t rated by you. You tell me that “too many young people are making choices age 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives”. Nicky Morgan – I have some news for you. My career options have been many. Music has opened doors that I could never have imagined. It has allowed me to meet some very special people. It continues to throw at me something different everyday. It demands new skills as I try to keep up with an ever-changing world as the priorites change at the whim of politicans and leaders. Music demands intellectual rigour, self-discipline, communication, sincerity, emotional and spiritual awareness and self-sacrifice. Most of us in arts and humanities don’t end up rich or famous. We do our best to develop and deepen an understanding of the world that we believe arts and humanities can bring.

You have a difficult job as education minister. You have to make difficult decisions and it’s inevitable that not everyone will agree with the decisions you make. Please encourage young people to pursue physical sciences, engineering and technology and to think seriously about their careers. At the same time, try to accept that we travel through life via different routes. We can all make a difference in our own small way whether it’s through rocket science or nuclear physics or as a dance teacher or poet. But please don’t devalue or compare what, for many of us, is a vocational life that provides constant surprises.

Kate Landells, Headteacher at Hill House School in Lymington, a residential provision for students aged 11-19 with autistic spectrum disorders, severe learning difficulties and associated challenging behaviour says it simply and succinctly on her Just Giving Page for the 2014 Great South Run when she explains the reason she is participating in the event is because she believes music changes lives. Music has changed my life too. All I ask of you is that you appreciate the arts, support them and be an advocate for them. Encourage children to value them and be enriched by them. In that way you just might make a difference too, which is why you became a politician to start with, isn’t it….?




For the last 2 weeks I have been playing timpani with the English National Ballet.

Every show I see children looking at the stage and orchestra with a dream-like imagination filled with excitement.

‘I could do that!’ It is this state I try to create in my lessons. Your pupils may not become professional musicians or a ballerina but the excitement you can instil will enable them to become anything in life they truly desire.

Give them that gift and the rest will take care of itself.

10 Pieces a new project by the BBC

This is a new project just launched by the BBC here in the UK. The aim is to inspire and expose children to classical music.

The BBC has such a wealth of experience and a national reach that I think it could achieve great things.

Have a look here. What do you think?



The Waiting Room – Christina Rasmussen

It has been a week since my guest blog ‘Good Grief’ for secondfirsts.com went online. During this time I have spent the week with my family camping and perhaps most fittingly my Dad has been with us.

I have thought a lot about life and how I even got to the point of someone wanting to use a piece of my writing and how it may help someone. The thing that has kept coming back to me is the idea of the ‘waiting room’. Christina describes this as the place where you wait after loss and before you decide or allow yourself to live again. It is such an easy yet powerful way of seeing and feeling that environment or situation.

However it is not just a waiting room after loss that fills my mind but more a sense of children being held in a waiting room by society because they are not encouraged to follow their joy every single day. Something that I feel passionate about is that children know how to live and grow to be their best-selves. As a society we seem to think we know better and have created systems such as education that do not support and enhance this but instead seem to stifle it.
I have mentioned before that on my daughters wall is a quote ‘Trust me I know what I’m doing’. This is not for her but for me, every time I think I know what is best for her and she tells me different I make sure I listen.

We are holding our young people in a waiting room. So much education is taught not experienced. This seems to put the emphasis on the future not the present. When I teach music I try to make sure that my pupils feel as well as understand that they are musicians from the moment they start to make a noise. It is about the journey of learning that is important, there is always more you can learn. You do not become a musician at Grade 8 or when you graduate from a music conservatoire, but when you feel music. The excitement and joy I felt in my first school wind band concert is still as high in my emotional musical (and life) highlights as the concerts I have performed at The Royal Albert Hall.

With my children I have seen both sides of this coin. During his last year in Primary School I have witnessed my step son ‘wait’ for nearly whole year as he has been tested over and over again to make sure the school can achieve the best results they can for the league tables. Only in the final few weeks as the residential trips took place and the school productions and concerts were performed did I see joy return to the present in his school life.

A past experience both he and sister loved was a project to create their own new business. They had to come up with a product, a price and decide how to market it. Fun, exciting and successful on so many levels. The focus was on the present and creativity. Everything they did was relevant to what they wanted to make a reality. No need to talk about Maths,English,ICT and all the other subjects and skills they were using and learning. They were just the tools needed to create their product and business with enthusiasm.

Everything was about now, the present. Not about learning these skills for the business they may or may not create 20 years in the future.

I would like more of the now in education no-matter where now is for that person. Much less of being taught in a waiting room, more time living for the enjoyment of today.

Giving music to education

A good friend of mine asked a question that made me sit up and listen. Why is there not an ensemble that champions British music here in the UK. Shouldn’t EVERY child in school have the experience of hearing a British ensemble playing world class music that has graced our country over the last few centuries? In my mind this should be given to every child as part of a fundamental understanding of their countries history.

Without thinking too hard I imagine a programme that includes works by Purcell, Britten, Handel, Coates, Goodwin, Arnold, The Beatles, John Barry (you can’t not include Bond in a concert for children!), Elgar, Sullivan, Walton, Holst…………..we may have a few different concerts here?!

Not only would it be informative but it would be great inspiring music that is just fantastic to listen to and perform. Why not make it interactive with an app for part of the concert? Why not allow them to join in with part of it? Why not have it start in the British Museum? I have performed concerts there before. Why not have it sponsored by a world class British company promoting world class music and education? Why is this not happening?

I guess because nobody has tried, wanted too or could fund it. Please let me know if you know differently but in my experience as a school boy until now being a professional musician I haven’t come across such an idea that has been sustainable. Yes there are festivals and occasional concerts in this vein or you may have been to Malvern to hear the ESO but this is not Great Britain standing on a chair singing it’s heart out to the next generation. We need a Last Night of Proms feeling that exposes and inspires people through music.

So to all my musician friends, people who work in education and business or anyone that could help in someway make such a project become a reality please get in touch.

I have an orchestra. I hereby form The Great British Music Ensemble c/o Strand Musicians.

What can you offer and how can we make this happen?
Do you work in education?
Do you work for the BBC?
Do you work in regional theatre or for a theatre group.
Do you know a promoter who would be interested in helping?
Do you work for a British Orchestra that might want to be involved? Do they have recordings we could use?
Can we make a You Tube channel for schools so they can watch music daily?
Can we use cinemas and beam one concert live around the country for people to see such as the Royal Opera House does for it’s performances?

So the aim is for every child in the UK to be exposed to live music in an exciting and inspirational way. A creative launch pad to show children what world class music has been produced by this country and delivered in a live context.

The goal is clear, the journey a creative collaboration that I invite those of you passionate about music to join and make it a reality.

Please get in touch through this blog.