Anyone can do it… and young people are

Last night I went to see BBC and Observer film critic Mark Kermode talking about his life as a musician – as recounted in his latest book How Does It Feel?: A Life of Musical Misadventures. It’s not what gave him fame and fortune but it’s what gave him fulfilment. In response to one question from the audience, “Music or film?”, he unhesitatingly answered “Music”.

The central theme of his talk was, ‘If I can do it, then anyone can do it.’ Wittily self-deprecating, he recalled how, never previously troubled by the urge to learn chromatic harmonica, he agreed to play one with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He built his first electric guitar despite having no talent for woodwork or wiring. He’s had a successful career on the double bass in skiffle bands but maintains he can’t play one. His attitude has been ‘OK, I’ll give it a go’ and, from youth to middle age, it always worked out.

A recent report from the charity Youth Music (www.youthmusic.org.uk) showed that young people have a similarly robust approach. The Sound of the Next Generation, their survey of 1,001 young people, found that 64% describe themselves as musical, almost all say they listen to music and 85% say singing makes them happy. Two-thirds say they make music – mostly singing (44%) or playing an instrument (30%) but also karaoke, making digital music, composing, rapping and DJing. And they’re not playing safe either:

“Interests tracked trends from across the decades and included classical music, bebop, jazz, rock and roll, psychedelic rock, punk, new-wave, synth-pop, heavy metal, grunge, hip-hop, R&B, rave, hardcore, jungle, garage, dubstep, and grime. More contemporary styles covered everything from nightcore to K-pop, trap to Afrobeats, and tropical house and moombahton.”

Less happily, music activity of all kinds falls away with age, from 79% of 7 – 10 year-olds to 62% of 11 – 15 year-olds and 53% of 16 – 17 year-olds. The report did not say why, though it did note a decline in music provision in schools and disillusion with the school curriculum among young people.

What is it about our schools, universities and early adult life that pushes all this music out of people’s lives? We should be more Kermode-ish and just give it a go. It’ll work out.

– Steve C

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