Music education services: achievable without a critical mass?

Recently, I sent a version of my editorial from the May-June 07 JMI into the Irish Times as a letter. It was published on April 24th (below), and a response came from Deirdre McCrea of Music Network on April 27th (also below).

It was good to see the music training correspondence continued, but I think that Deirdre McCrea’s letter may have muddied the waters again, when I had been trying to clarify matters. Ms McCrea’s letter suggests that my letter was weighing the campaign down with divisions and ‘sub-sectoral issues’. If this was how it came across, this was not my intention. As I said in my letter, traditional music organisations are playing little or no part in the current music education movement – as Ms McCrea describes it, ‘to generate debate at policy level on music education in Ireland.’ I see this as something that needs to be addressed now, because for a national system of music education services to be taken seriously at Government level, there would have to see great pressure coming the ground up. Therefore, numbers are needed –and traditional music in Ireland has those numbers. It is in the interest of traditional music organizations to get involved, but the reason why they are not, I suggest in my letter, is because they are busy with their own campaigns. Perhaps ‘debate at policy level on music education in Ireland’ can be achieved regardless of my perspective above, and without any critical mass, but in my following of broad music education campaigns in Ireland over the past decade, this tactic has never worked before.

Irish Times, April 24th 2007


Madam, – With regard to your editorial “Music training” (April 18th), one of the reasons that discussion on music education rarely evokes enough national interest or action is because, to a certain sizeable number of musicians in this country – traditional musicians – talk about “music education” is actually a discussion about classical music education. Comment on the subject in this paper of late would not convince anyone otherwise. We currently have two music education movements. The first, led by Music Network and the Forum for Music in Ireland, has a multi-genre model as its objective, based on Music Network’s 2003 blueprint for same, and is targeted at the Department of Education. The second, involving traditional music organisations, mainly working independently of each other, strengthens and increases traditional music educational services through soliciting funds from the Arts Council, the Department of the Gaeltacht and the Department of the Arts. There is much common ground between these two movements – they are both plainly involved in music education – but that fact becomes blurred. Traditional music education services – in the form of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann or the Willie Clancy Summer School or Na Píobairí Uilleann or the countless other summer schools and organisational activities – are not appreciated widely enough as being a facet of music education, but rather are perceived as the “preservation” of Irish culture. The rhetoric of traditional music organisations can often encourage this view. By emphasising extra-musical advantages (such as the preservation of a music practice, or the strengthening of Irish identity and culture) it can create the impression that learning this music is not a sufficient benefit in itself, i.e. that it is not a comprehensive music education. The blanket result is that Music Network’s plan for a national music education system is robbed of a critical mass, i.e. the involvement of all those involved in music education, and, by underselling itself, traditional music’s potential to become the basis of a music education system in Ireland, the ultimate aim of that community, is equally hampered. Progress on a national system of music education requires at least some acknowledgement in both movements of the other, and then, naturally, an attempt to join forces.

Yours, etc,

TONER QUINN, Editor, The Journal of Music in Ireland, An Spidéal, Co Galway.


Madam, – In response to Toner Quinn’s letter of April 24th, the Music Education Working Group was established to generate debate at policy level on music education in Ireland. To this end, the group strongly welcomes participation from all relevant constituencies which have been working to compensate for official neglect in music education provision. This argument is too broad to be burdened by genre-specific – and countless other possible sub-sectoral – issues. The model proposed by the Music Network report, A National System of Local Music Education Services, is inclusive, non-discriminatory and open to all musical genres. The existing pilot music education partnerships in Co Donegal and the city of Dublin both encompass music teaching in a range of genres, including traditional Irish music. Delegates attending the seminar organised by the Music Education Working Group on April 18th included representatives from a number of organisations from the traditional music sector. A key outcome of the seminar was the unanimous endorsement of the Music Network report as the way forward for music education in Ireland. Music Network and the Music Education Working Group value the contributions of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí éireann, the Willie Clancy Summer School, Na Píobairí Uilleann and the countless other summer schools and organisations active in providing music education in Ireland. Our aim is to harness this work into a coordinated national policy, bringing educational provision to areas that have not benefited to date, and ensuring that for subsequent generations access to music education, in all its forms, will no longer be an accident of geography or social circumstance.

Yours, etc, DEIRDRE McCREA, CEO, Music Network, On behalf of the Music Education Working Group, c/o The Coach House, Dublin 2.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s