I was introduced to music at the age of five, as we whirled around the school hall to The Blue Danube Waltz in PE. I came home and sang the tune to my dad, who had been a member of a record club and had a huge collection of 45 and 78 records. Do you remember them? A friend of my mother’s had a piano and I used to go and bash on it from time to time. How I longed to be able to play it properly.
Eventually, I persuaded my parents to pay for piano lessons. I practised at a table for 18 months until my parents actually bought me a beautiful 1926 Mahogany Cramer piano as a reward for doing well in my 11+. It was not usually in tune but I practised away for an hour or two every night and got quite good. I think my dad quite liked to hear me play but my mum wasn’t interested and the piano practice competed in the sitting room with the 6 o’ clock news at full volume. My parents used to wheel me out to play Beethoven and Chopin to their friends but I was so nervous of making a mistake that my performances were usually poor and fell on unappreciative ears. In those days music was not considered valuable and enriching in Indian families, a situation that has largely persisted to this day. My mother always wondered loudly why I couldn’t just play nursery rhymes and why I needed to play from the music.
Playing the piano is a very solitary business, unless one has reached a high enough level to be a soloist. I longed to have flute lessons and be able to play with others, but sadly my dad had been made redundant and the money just wasn’t available. Eventually the pressure of A levels and performance anxiety overwhelmed me and I gave up the piano at 16, one of the great sadnesses, the biggest mistakes, of my life.
Luckily, I married someone extremely musical, who played in orchestras as part of the nascent Bromley Youth Music Trust (BYMT), before it even existed. He toured with them as a teenager and shared their international competition success, and in the last 30 years, BYMT has provided life enrichment to tens of thousands of lucky Bromley children and teenagers.
My children are blessed with the gift of music. The Boywonder first came across BYMT at the age of two, when he chanced upon a busking performance in Bromley’s Glades shopping centre. He has wanted to play the trumpet ever since then and entered the BYMT system a few years ago, recently having been invited to join their top Wind Band. Darling Daughter, an accomplished clarinettist, three years younger, is also working her way up through the BYMT organisation. I am so thankful for the support and nurturing they have received from the BYMT. Although their school is extraordinarily music-focused, and attracts some of South London’s top young musicians, BYMT’s Saturday morning music school is a chance to get together with children from all sorts of backgrounds, play wonderful music and cultivate friendships that last a lifetime. The Boywonder is currently going through a crisis in his trumpet playing, struggling to re-set his embouchure. It was the Head of Brass at BYMT that put him in touch with a renowned national expert and we hope he is now on the road to resolving this heartbreaking problem once and for all.
BYMT is an organisation of music teachers that provides top quality music tuition and coaching to more than 8000 local children at their centre in Southborough Lane and other sites around the borough. The youngest children play in ensembles after school and have an annual chance to audition for a place in the coveted Saturday Morning music school ensembles. Over six hundred children are kept occupied productively every Saturday morning during term time as well as in all sorts of specialist outfits such as flute choirs, chamber orchestras, choirs and Big Bands. They are taught and coached by top-flight musicians and teachers and this quality enables the top bands to compete successfully and win prizes against adult ensembles all over Europe.
At a more basic level BYMT runs subsidised instrumental lessons, and gives hundreds of children the opportunity to play and have fun productively with others, instead of hanging around in intimidating groups in local shopping malls.
Sadly, this extraordinary organisation is now facing a huge cut in its funding from the London Borough of Bromley. These are hard times indeed and we must all take our share of the spending cuts but BYMT is an easy target. Outwardly, it appears that it’s just a load of over-privileged, over-indulged, middle-class children enjoying themselves at the expense of local Council Tax payers. But it really isn’t. BYMT brings music into primary schools and introduces less privileged children to the joy of music when, like me, they might not otherwise have had the chance. Any child can borrow or hire an instrument and just have a go. Any local child can come along and share in the joy of music making. BYMT provides support for financially disadvantaged families with free music tuition and ensemble membership.
Learning to play an instrument brings proven benefits to children’s self-confidence, interpersonal skills, mathematics, language abilities and behaviour. Music brings a joy to life, and teaches children about self-discipline and teamwork. It brings a beautiful release and a purpose to the lives of stressed teenagers anxious about their future. It keeps alive live performance of classical music that would otherwise die out. BYMT is the best youth music organisation in London and renowned as one of the top handful in the UK. Local politicans have named it as the “jewel in the crown,” of Bromley. How tragic it would be to cut this wonderful organisation out of existence. Please, London Borough of Bromley, think of the greater good, the longer term. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.