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‘Passionate Musicians Only Come from Passionate Five-Year-Olds’

Sir Simon Rattle
Jim Rakete

When Simon Rattle received the Artist of the Year prize at the Gramophone Awards some years ago, that is what he said. “Passionate musicians only come from passionate five-year-olds”.

Rattle was recently appointed Chief Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. The reaction was immediate and adamant. The Guardian said, “It is the best possible piece of news that music-making of all kinds in Britain could have had.”

I argue that it can have an affect the world over. Music education has been hammered over the last quarter-century or more. When I read a recent posting by a teacher decrying the affect additional layers of testing and preparing for tests would have on classrooms, I began to wonder what possible hope there could be for music education, particularly in the early grades, where it is so crucial.

Further into the piece, the Guardian wrote, “will it really make much impact on the teenagers of the 2020s, or change the lives of the masses of people in London and elsewhere who feel classical music is not for them?”

Not if we don’t react to the opportunity. It will have no impact if we allow departments of education to continue making the tests more important than the education our children are to receive. Look at the mess involving those who are charged with the oversight, upkeep, and operation of our nuclear missiles.

Whether you agree that we should have them or not, they are there…and need to be properly maintained and overseen. Those whose job it is to do that have been found to be more worried about passing the exam than actually knowing how to do the job.

It has been proved time and again how important the arts and culture are to our society and to our personal well-being. I hope we can find a way to create some of those passionate five-year-olds now, so our society can experience the world John F. Kennedy spoke of in his inaugural address:

Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

In remarks at Amherst College in 1963, he said, ”If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”

To paraphrase one other thing he said, this will not be accomplished in days, or weeks, or maybe even years. But let us begin.

Hear JFK’s complete inaugural speech here.

Read the complete editorial in The Guardian.