Education: Practice makes perfect, if you get the chance: Passport to Pimlico opens the door - Playing a musical instrument offers many benefits, but Diana Hinds asks: are there enough opportunities to learn?

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The Independent Online
CATHERINE HOLDER, now 15, started violin lessons at the age of four. Her older sister, Joanne, had been selected by her primary school for free tuition at a Saturday morning music centre. When it introduced Suzuki violin classes for its youngest pupils, Catherine was invited to join in.

Eleven years later, she still spends every Saturday at the Centre for Young Musicians (CYM) in Pimlico, south London, where she studies GCSE music, plays in ensembles and has lessons in percussion, violin and recorder. Her sister, now 18, left the centre last year after gaining a grade 8 distinction on the recorder.

Without local authority support, it is unlikely either could have gone so far. Until 1990, the centre was funded solely by the Inner London Education Authority, and since then, most London boroughs have agreed to part-fund pupils, with the remainder made up from parental contributions (between pounds 400 and pounds 1,600 a year) and the CYM Foundation.

For Mike and Mary Holder, who live in a small house in Sydenham, south London, financing their daughters' music lessons has become more of a struggle in the past few years since Mike was made redundant. Neither plays instruments (although Mary learnt the recorder at school), but both have a keen appreciation of classical music and have constantly encouraged their daughters.

For many years, Mike took them each Saturday by train to Pimlico - they had no car - and stayed with them until their lessons were over. 'It's basically a decision you have to make about your children - whether you are going to make the effort and help them do things you haven't done. . . . Sitting in on their lessons, I used to wish I could play myself.'

He emphasises the commitment Joanne and Catherine have made, but admits he has sometimes felt they should practise more. Mary says it can be difficult to find space in the house, especially as they also foster two young children.

'My parents have nagged me a bit, and I know I should practise more than I do,' says Catherine, who practises about three times a week. 'But if they keep on at me, I do sometimes do more.'

Supporting children's musical education also involves attending concerts. By the time they reach secondary school, these are pleasurable events, Mike says, and he is clearly proud to have heard his daughters play in youth orchestras at venues such as the Barbican.

Younger children's performances, however, can be a strain. 'Christmas concerts for four-, five- and six-year-olds are enjoyable when your own child is performing, but when they're not, you really have to steel yourself to smile at times.'

He has 'positively discouraged' Joanne and Catherine from contemplating careers in music because, he says, 'you have to be so lucky, you have to be one of the best'. But he is convinced of the value of music as a hobby. 'Playing in an orchestra is about working with people, everybody helping each other. I think, with this kind of experience, you tend to be more confident in life.'

(Photograph omitted)