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Editorial: Why study music?

Most young people love music (when was the last time you saw a teenager without a set of headphones?!) but turning that passion into a decision to study music as a subject at school, college or university is a contentious issue as evidenced by the decline in GCSE numbers.
With schools being measured on more traditional academic success and parents keen to ensure the employability of their children, what messages can we promote about the benefits of taking music to the next level?
The excellent publication by the Cultural Learning Alliance in 2011 found that “Learning through arts and culture improves attainment in all subjects” and that the “employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment.”
So why does the English Baccalaureate policy not place a value on the arts?
While the DfE says that the Ebacc “is not the be all and end all … and should not be the limit of schools’ ambitions for their pupils,” this is a very tall order when budgets, time and resources are at a premium. Encouragingly, though, from the admissions guidance on Oxford University’s website:
“The English Baccalaureate is not expected to impact on a candidate’s ability to make a competitive application.  It is more important that a potential Oxford applicant has a GCSE profile which is strong overall (i.e. contains a large majority of A and A* grades).”
Mixed messages, indeed.
And of course, A Level students are conscious of how their subject choices affect their applications to Universities, with much confusion over ‘preferred’ subjects. This comes down to careful research for chosen courses and subject combinations, but Music shouldn’t be easily dismissed as a ‘soft’ subject – many Universities view it positively.
Music is not a luxury choice or an indulgence, any student will tell you what a demanding discipline it really is. It certainly proved to be the most challenging, and rewarding, of my A Levels.
I knew at the time that in all likelihood I would not study music at University or pursue a career in music performance, so I think I can provide an interesting personal perspective on this debate.
I opted for Music because I was inspired by an excellent teacher and intellectually stimulated by the course, which, I discovered, demanded skills in literacy, history, art, world culture, teamwork, leadership, confidence, time-management, self-discipline, self-awareness, listening, critical thinking, and an insatiable curiosity for new cultural discoveries.
While the majority of my career in publishing has not involved music (until now) and I’m certainly not a professional musician or composer, employers have never failed to ask about the musical interests listed on my CV in interviews, and I am always grateful for the sense of confidence and creativity I gained through the course.
Studying music has absolutely had a positive impact on my career and, I’d say, my employability. And, as Nietzsche wrote, music sharpens our sense of participation in the world and gives greater meaning to life.
I’ve been asking my colleagues, authors and teacher contacts for their thoughts on this issue recently. One person pointed out just how well the subject combines with studying other subjects such as languages, sciences and other arts, and how flexible it is in that you are enabled to pursue your personal interests whilst simultaneously broadening your horizons.
“If we fail to offer our young people the opportunity to participate in the arts and culture, then we fail to support them in becoming the leading thinkers, innovators, creative business and community leaders of the future.” Lord Puttnam, Chair, Cultural Learning Alliance
Studying music is not simply for those who have the potential to become the next great composer or top performer. It offers a rich and robust learning experience, one your students will never forget, and one that will help them no matter what career they choose to pursue.
Check the range of musical learning and support materials, available from musicroom.com.
Did you study music? How has the subject helped you in other career paths and professional fields?

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