Letters: Perspectives on music

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The Independent Online

Nation's future talent put in peril

The problem Professor Hallam has highlighted does not just affect schools' music teaching ("Reforms and redundancies kill off music in state schools", 27 December). The long-term consequences will be disastrous not only for musical education in schools but for music as an art form and its contribution to the British economy. Professional instrumentalists and singers don't spring from the womb ready trained. They have to learn, work and finally achieve the excellence required of them long before they can hope to become orchestral players, soloists or members of an opera house chorus.

This raises the question of who will populate our symphony orchestras, teach music, work as soloists with amateur choirs or conduct them, even write advertising jingles, all of which need trained musicians, in 15 or 20 years, if there are no musicians save the few who can be trained privately. There will not just be fewer players or singers from whom to choose but hardly any at all.

Opera houses and concert halls, along with theatres, bring enormous earnings to the Exchequer and play a considerable part in supporting their local and the national economies, especially where tourism is concerned. The English choral tradition, already struggling because there are fewer church choirs training amateur musicians, will be further damaged, this time I believe irreperably, because they rely on professional soloists, semi or fully professional orchestras and professional conductors to enhance their music-making.

As with many other Coalition policies, this one was conceived in cloud-cuckoo land – or most probably in the bar of the local Conservative Club – without thought to any consequences. A convenient cut because the arts don't matter.

Bill Pitt, Broadstairs, Kent

The case for teaching music in state schools goes beyond music lessons. Teachers of other subjects will confirm that students who learn to play instruments also learn to concentrate and to practice; they learn that success can only be achieved with commitment and endeavour.

The Coalition Cabinet knows this to be true, but their children will have private lessons. We are all in this together.

Dave Ridley, Sheffield

Radio 3 is still educating me

I am writing in response to recent letters criticising BBC Radio 3. At school my music education was poor and I acquired my appreciation of classical music over many years from the BBC; I continue to do so.

The more informal presentation style that people complain about is largely confined to the early morning, and for most of the day I can listen to good performances of substantial works that are presented in as natural and restrained a manner as ever.

Some programmes are outstandingly well researched. Twice a week there is a broadcast of a complete opera, with excellent support material on the BBC website. To claim that a few features that don't appeal to everyone "have ruined a once-great institution" makes no sense to me.

Robert Allen, Edinburgh

Politicians lose the NHS plot

The reorganisation of the NHS outlined in the White Paper is irrelevant to the needs of the health service. Its introduction will cause harm in the short term as managers and clinicians try to find out what they should be doing, and in the long term will make very little difference.

Politicians have lost the plot when it comes to NHS organisation. Once it was designed as a top-down system with the District Health Authority as the basic building block. Money came from central government and was distributed to hospitals and GP practices by the DHA according to need, based on population and disease. It worked, but was grossly underfunded.

Then in 1990, under Kenneth Clarke, it was changed to a "grocery store" type of organisation. The DHA was abolished. In its place the community, based on GPs, became purchasers and secondary services (the hospital) became providers. The internal market was supposed to improve services as competition improves grocery provision.

The reality is that patients with diseases are not as simple as selling apples and cornflakes. So when the increased funding came, as it did under Labour, much of the benefit was wasted propping up this inappropriate model. After 20 years no political party is prepared to admit they are wrong and end the failed experiment of the internal market.

Until we return to a top-down planned system, we will be spending ever more on management and less on clinical services. We need a co-operative Health Service not a competitive one.

Professor Peter D O Davies, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital

The Government's health service policy is more subtle and more dangerous than your leading article "Andrew Lansley's gamble with the nation's health" (7 December) suggests.

Passing of commercial and administrative responsibilities to the doctor will require formation of units to manage this. These commercial units will become responsible for employing doctors, and not the other way round. Doctors will become factotums of these organisations, whose main responsibility will be to make money for shareholders or cut expenditure for the Government, and in the end the patients will be related to the organisations rather than to their family doctors.

This is happening now, as I notice that the practice (now called a health hub) where I had a relationship with my doctor (retired) is now serving me with doctors who come and go, half a dozen in the space of a year.

The traditional invaluable support which the individual had from his family doctor will be lost.

Matthew Wallis, London SW6

We'd be happy to pay more tax

Like Ian Watson (letter, 28 December), my wife and I are comfortably off, in our case on occupational pensions paying tax at the basic rate.

We would much rather pay more income tax than endure the misery around us of people losing jobs and houses, with more children in poverty and fewer from less well-heeled families going to university, not to mention the loss of valuable local and national services that have taken time, energy and creativity to develop.

Just a penny on the basic rate would, to my reckoning, solve the tuition fees problem at a near-painless stroke. Surely the majority of people in jobs can afford to live a little less luxuriously?

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas exhortation to the most prosperous to "shoulder the load" will not succeed. The Coalition needs the guts to think the unthinkable (and by all appearances, unmentionable).

Tom Canham, Little Dewchurch, Herefordshire

While there are rarely simple solutions to complex problems, Ian Watson is absolutely right. Increasing income tax can sort out the bankers' bonuses and overpaid executive pay problems at a stroke. Progressive increases in the rate of tax on incomes above £100,000, £500,000 and £1m would really make sure we are all in this together.

As for myself, I would be more than willing to forgo my winter fuel allowance and travel pass, etc, in the hope that this would help the next generation to benefit from the free education that enabled me to realise my professional ambitions.

Geoffrey Payne, London W5

As a couple of oldies, we watched in quiet desperation the new government's inconsistent approach on child allowances and the winter fuel allowance. Like many, we can stay warm without the help of the winter fuel allowance and hoped that it would be directed only at the most needy.

The policy has had unintended consequences. We have just passed our allowance on as a charitable donation, which will also attract tax benefits for the recipients. I'm sure the money will be far better spent than being used to pay interest on a megadebt that we don't feel in the least bit responsible for.

It's our little contribution to the the brave new world of the "big society", with a bonus from the Government. Nice one, David.

Rob Benton, Bristol

Never forget the price of oil

Hamish McRae reviews world economic developments of the past year (Opinion, 22 December). He notes the swing of economic power towards the emerging Eastern powers. Surprisingly however, he doesn't touch on the other fundamental factor at work – rising oil prices.

In the past decade, allowing for short-term fluctuations, crude oil has steadily risen from around $20 to over $90 per barrel. This is to be expected given that world oil production is at or near its peak, while consumption is rapidly rising. This has to be of enormous significance, as our economies are so reliant upon the availability and cost of vast amounts of oil.

It seems to me that, should the oil price continue to rise, and the economic fundamentals suggest that it will, there could be major problems ahead. This is especially so for the US, as they are particularly reliant upon cheap oil.

In 2008, the oil price spiked at $148. Some experts believe this sparked the economic meltdown it the US, which then spread to the rest of the western world. Of course, there were pre-existing problems but the oil-price rise acted as the catalyst. I feel that we need to be aware of the hazards ahead and redouble our efforts to wean our economy off of its addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.

Keith O'Neill, Shrewsbury

In November I bought a tankful of heating oil at 44p a litre. Today a refill would cost 68p a litre. So far as I can see the wholesale price of oil has hardly changed over that period. In any event I expect that my supplier had bought the oil it is selling now some months or even a year or two back.

I am having a similar experience with bottled gas. It has increased over two weeks from under £50 a bottle to nearly £80.

I have no doubt the suppliers would all justify these huge increases by pleading increased costs due to the bad weather, but I suspect that they are simply using the bad weather when customers cannot afford the time or risk of shopping around to squeeze as much as they can out of their smaller customers. I bet the big customers are not paying these increased prices.

Doesn't it make you long for the advent of free price competition in the Health Service?

Dudley Dean, Maresfield, east Sussex

How to bury power lines

I support much of what Terence Blacker said about the desirability of putting National Grid power-lines underground "if you care about the landscape" (Opinion, 21 December). Having looked at the website he recommended (www.nationalgridundergrounding.com) I find many good arguments for going underground.

But as a physicist I found one argument missing. The large currents required could actually be carried by "high temperature" superconducting cables with negligible power dissipation of the kind that occurs in overhead lines.

The large hadron collider (LHC) machine at CERN near Geneva has now proven that "cold" superconducting cable can carry large currents in a buried ring of 27-kilometre circumference, with very little visual impact on the surrounding countryside. The new instrumentation which CERN has developed to overcome the LHC's notorious problems at start-up last year will be ideally suited to monitor the performance of the cables in any superconducting power grid.

I hope and trust that National Grid is doing urgent research and development on how to put suitable cables underground. The formidable engineers at the high energy particle physics laboratories of the world, at CERN, Brookhaven on Long Island and Fermilab near Chicago, will all have much experience and know-how to contribute.

David J Miller, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University College London

Jews who call Israel to account

Despite the best efforts of the Israel lobby to link Zionism with Judaism, the case of young Jewish activist Jonathan Pollak facing jail highlights that opposition to the policies of the Israeli government is not de facto anti-Semitism, as the lobbyists would have us believe ("Jewish activist faces jail for West Bank resistance", 27 December).

He is one of a growing number of Jews in Israel and the diaspora who are campaigning against the disciminatory policies of the Zionist state. Jonathan Pollak puts to shame British and US politicians who preach Israel-right-or-wrong and jettison support for international laws and conventions in the process; he also shames the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, for whom resistance has become a dirty word.

Ibrahim Hewitt, Senior Editor, Middle East Monitor, London NW10

You publish a photograph of William Hague in talks with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister (28 December). Mr Hague cannot be unaware that he is sitting next to a Union Flag, on the table between the two men, that is mounted upside down. He must have been in distress and would probably have agreed to anything.

C S Mence, New malden, Surrey

Gender, football and shopping

I am happy to accept that Joan Smith can spend Christmas in whatever way she sees fit ("Shopping shouldn't be a dirty word", 28 December). However, as Joan frequently writes columns suggesting that following football is a moronic activity, I fail to see why her love of shopping should be seen as somehow more credible.

Football is an engrossing sport which justifiably engenders a great deal of involved debate among its followers. Shopping is the vacuous accumulation of possessions often produced in sweatshop conditions by corrupt profiteering multinational companies.

Most bizarre is Joan Smith's suggestion that Islamic terrorists would be better employed shopping in the sales. The fundamentalist extremism of al-Qa'ida has its roots in a ludicrously exaggerated reaction to Western consumerist society. It would therefore seem rather strange to suggest to those involved that they should be buying a nice "digital camera or Le Creuset frying pan". I wonder if Joan would have told Karl Marx that he should forget all his whingeing and buy a nice lounge suite?

Tim Matthews, Luton, Bedfordshire

Ritual slaughter is a clean death

Never trust a consensus! Having had to put down two ponies I have experience of the two methods described by Johann Hari in his article criticising kosher and hahal slaughter ("The religious excuse for barbarity", 19 November).

The first was quick and easy in that, as soon as the jugular was cut, the animal's strong heart pumped out all his blood in under a minute; there was no question of drowning in it, indeed no time to drown; the eye clouded in death even as the animal realised its fate.

The second horse was still able to hobble as far as the road, and so was eligible for a veterinary-supplied death. As soon as the injection is administered the animal falls to the ground, but he is only stunned, and his eye betrays the horror of being immobilised before danger, which must be the worst fear of any creature.

Thus he lay for hours while the poison acted, knowing all the while that he was doomed yet horribly unable to move. His heart, rather than enabling him to die, stubbornly beat on. The second pony was far closer to my heart and I afterwards regretted the cowardice that prevented me from cleanly slaughtering him.

Also I would have benefited from his carcass to feed the dogs and compost a new tree, as I had from the other, rather than sending him off as poisoned meat on the knacker's lorry.

I would advise Mr Hari that what appears humane to us is not always so for the animal. I would also warn against the assumption that meat for consumption is sold fresher today than it was in former times when butchery was part of husbandry and performed on site.

Henrietta Nasmyth, Radlett, Hertfordshire

Secular worship

Tom Sutcliffe mentions that the National Secular Society has invited Michael Gove to remove the legal requirement for a daily act of worship in schools ("Jesus wouldn't want kids forced to worship", 28 December). I think the secularist cause would be better served by keeping school "Christian" assemblies exactly as they are. In my experience the majority of students and staff treat these gatherings with an appropriate mix of boredom, cynicism and derision; that's enough to put you off religion for ever.

Patrick Smith, Beccles, Suffolk