One of the few things I do catch up with on iPlayer is the bi-annual BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. Probably 2010 was one of the few years I missed the whole competition, since it began in 1978. I think that may have been the year it was shifted to BBC 4, and I just didn’t register it had happened – no matter, I’m back on track with it this year.
Back in the beginning, it was what kept me inspired to keep practising, kept me believing I could get better – though, well aware that as a late-starter, comparatively, as a musician, I was never going to get to the required standard (if memory serves me correctly, at that time, it was Grade 8 with Distinction. The current rules state Grade 8 with no mention of classification.) to even think about entering the competition, let alone be that good! However I’ve since passed Grade 8 on all my three instruments as an adult, and am getting back to where I was after a enforced few years without access to a piano, and when I first left uni, I earned my way as a music teacher, church organist, school pianist and accompanist for non-piano playing teachers for their exam candidates. I used the competition as inspiration for my own pupils, and on at least two occasions, organised trips to concerts where past winners were playing locally. No, none of my pupils ever got to that kind of stage either, but they learned a lot!
In the intervening years, I watched out of interest, I was always pleased to note I rarely got it wrong as to who was going through to the next round in the various categories, though not always correct as to the over all winner. I had occasional wistful moments of wondering what my life would’ve been like if I’d stayed as a working musician, though no regrets. I continued to play for church, and occasionally for schools if they needed a pianist.
Most recently, I’ve been working with teenagers of the opposite end of the spectrum. I think I may have deliberately missed out on 2010 as the contrast between those I work with and those who appear in the competition was much too strong… My students struggle with basic numeracy and literacy, with social skills, with basic day to day living.
However, this year, as I’ve been much more relaxed about many things, I’ve not been hiding the musical side of myself at work. It began last year, when I was timetabled into a room with a piano in it! (For an English lesson… ) With two students who were drawn to it like a magnet. Like many, they’d taught themselves to pick out tunes they knew, but had neither access to piano lessons, or a supportive home life. We struck a deal. If they completed their English work, I would start to teach them a little more, and would play for them occasionally as they worked at their English.
This year, I have different students, but for whom music has also been very important. It’s been the best way of helping them learn to respect other people’s ideas, tastes, views – and that they might like something new! It’s helped two young men to articulate ideas, it’s helped calm others. We’ve introduced each other to music that we like, learnt to listen to the choices of others, and it’s been great. Far more importantly, they are all just beginning to realise there is so much more to them as people than the “failures” they have been throughout their school lives, and that they don’t have to be limited to education as defined by their skills in numeracy and literacy.
So, I’m watching to see who wins the BBC Young Musician of the Year this year – and will be showing some of it to my own students during the next few weeks. No, none of us will ever be there, but we will enjoy it! I will also be saying to my students at the end of this year that they have worked just as hard, and achieved just as much in their own ways as these young musicians., and I’m every bit as proud of them for it. If not more so!