Orchestral playing, terrorism and others

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Low pay and no prospects: orchestral playing is not for me

Low pay and no prospects: orchestral playing is not for me

Sir: I am writing in response to the article about salaries of orchestral players in Britain ("Five variations on a theme of impoverished musicians", 10 September). Sadly, the feeling of disproportionately low wages and less-than-appealing prospects is one that is felt, almost without exception, among my colleagues in the profession with whom I have discussed this subject.

I have two further observations. Firstly, the salaries and conditions cited by the players in the article are a luxury in the eyes of the numerous freelance musicians - including myself for the last two years - whose conditions of employment are far from stable, and whose annual wages are in many cases lucky to reach even half of those offered in a full-time orchestral position.

Secondly, I would like to draw attention to the lack of career development for orchestral musicians. In my case as a woodwind player, my prospects, the opportunity to raise my profile, to take on more responsibility and to perform in increasingly higher profile venues would be most unlikely to change from the day of starting to the day of leaving an orchestral post. These aspects to my mind are integral components of any employment, especially one which has required so many years of training. Systems of promotion and the concept of pay according to expertise and experience are absolutely non-existent.

As a result of these considerations, I have taken the difficult decision to leave the music profession and abandon my aspirations of becoming a full-time orchestral player. I have decided to re-train, and have just completed my first week taking the Graduate Diploma in Law.

Somewhat perversely, I expect the sale of my instrument (a unique 1952 Rosewood bassoon) to cover all my fees for legal training and leave me a few pounds change - and with some considerably brighter career prospects.


Spiralling terrorism after 11 September

Sir: Bravo for your cover piece on Saturday, "We should not have allowed 19 murderers to change our world" (11 September). This had to be said and Robert Fisk said it so well.

It is appalling that many, many people (including myself, who wrote to Blair in these terms, before the Iraq invasion) saw that the bombing response to the atrocities, the spurious invasion way, would stir up a hornet's nest of terrorists, spread the "disease", make recruiting for terrorism much easier and more common. What I did not foresee was the extent to which this would spread worldwide, and the virtual impossibility of reining in those who were glad to die for their causes.

We are now out of control, and only a radical volte-face may have any effect, and that only in years to come.


Sir: My father writes (letters, 11 September 2004) that seeking to understand terrorism simply fuels further acts of terrorism. I disagree.

I believe that terrorism is fuelled by those who seek to pursuade young, impressionable people that murder and death are the only solutions. Terrorism is rife in the Occupied Territories because Palestinian people are taught to hate; have pictures of armed terrorists in their schools; are constantly shown pictures of "martyrs" and the number those martyrs have killed; and are taught to aspire to murder and death.

Until we understand that the terrorist leaders are depriving their people and their children of a future, we can do nothing to tackle the true causes of terrorism and achieve peace.

London NW4

Hope for orphans

Sir: Virginia Ironside's Review front article "Forgotten, but not gone" (9 September) highlights an issue that normally receives very little media coverage. Her piece is a stark remainder that 15 years after the collapse of Communism in Romania, large numbers of children are still living in institutional care.

The story is the same across the entire region of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The number of children entering state care is growing (officially three quarters of a million, but it's estimated to be at least double that). The common misconception is that these children are orphans, whereas in reality around 95 per cent of them actually have at least one living parent. Economic hardship and other social problems, combined with a lack of social safety nets, means parents have no choice but to place their children in large-scale, run-down institutions.

Romania is by no means alone in this situation. In fact, Bulgaria has more children in state care per capita than any other country in the region. The West seems to be under the impression that now Communism is over, the problems have gone away. The sad reality is very different. These countries and their people need more help and support through this period of transition, and none more so than the children who exist in institutions instead of living with proper families where they should be.

Chief Executive Officer
London EC2

Organic yields

Sir: One important aspect of organic farming was omitted from the special supplement for Organic Week (3 September), which casts the comparison with conventional agriculture in a very different light: organic's much reduced yield per hectare.

Typically one might expect half the produce from an organic crop as from conventional agriculture as practised in the West. This difference is amplified further when one takes into account the grazing land required to provide the nitrogen necessary to sustain organic production, and further again after adding in the extra acres to maintain food security at its current level. The point was made that organic farming is better for its local biodiversity than conventional intensive agriculture. While this is the case, the gap between the two is small by comparison with the biodiversity in the "natural" environment.

Large-scale organic agriculture in Britain would mean incursions into land presently unfarmed (at the expense of biodiversity) or a huge increase in our imports of food from abroad beyond levels last seen half a century ago. Let us hope, for the sake of what little natural environment remains and of our balance of payments, that organic agriculture remains a niche market.

East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire

Terrified teachers

Sir: As a teacher in a multi-racial school in inner London, I read your article "Bonus plan to recruit more black teachers" (8 September) with interest.

Recruiting teachers who can relate to a diverse cohort is an important issue which deserves the attention that the Mayor is currently giving it. Strategies that can raise esteem and attainment in the young, some of whom face discrimination because of race and may be disdavantaged because of their background, are to be welcomed.

However, the article also referred to a recommendation that must surely send all the wrong signals if it were to become widely accepted. Behaviour management and discipline are a huge issue and the idea that a pupil should only be permanantly excluded on the first offence if he or she is carrying a gun or a knife is frankly terrifying. Words fail me at what teachers are expected to put up with in the name of inclusion.

By all means recruit more black teachers but don't put them in classrooms where they will they have to deal with all manner of abuse short of being threatened with an offensive weapon.

London SE16

Hunting solution

Sir: Ellie Levenson's excellent article "My crafty campaign to save the slug" (7 September) does contain just one error. The Government, while its policy on invertebrate control is yet to be fully laid out, has been quite clear on its position on hunting. The 2001 Labour manifesto did not pledge to ban hunting, as the article suggested, but said that the Government would "enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue".

Many would argue that by bringing forward legislation to license hunting, (the concept of which was supported by veterinary opinion, land use groups, the House of Lords and public opinion) it enabled Parliament to do just that. Only backbench MPs prevented the Government finding a sensible, workable, evidence-based solution to this long-running debate. Their obsession with a ban risks making the Government look trivial and ridiculous.

Chief Executive
Countryside Alliance
London SE11

Learning by heart

Sir: Your editorial on times tables ("Old Times", 9 September) distracts from an important fact in mathematics learning. Dr Sylvia Steel showed in her research - as your report in the same edition "Learning of tables can help children" makes clear - that children who can automatically retrieve multiplication facts from long-term memory do it more quickly and with less errors than those who use strategies such as counting on their fingers. When facts can be automatically retrieved, less strain is put on working memory. Problem solving becomes more efficient.

The ideal of learning multiplication facts "by heart" is important. However, I take issue with Dr Steel in her emphasis on the method of learning by rote to get there. There are many ways a child can learn - can commit to long-term memory - the multiplication facts. Rote learning is one of them. Equally effective can be such methods as flash cards, writing them out, visualising them, drawing them in the air. Different methods are required for different children.

The message is clear. Use whatever method you can to learn your multiplication facts. It will improve your mathematics. It is well worth it.

Lympstone, Devon

Sir: As a retired primary school teacher I despair that educationists fail to comprehend that one system of learning does not have to be sacrificed for another. The reason tables became unfashionable was that children were chanting but not understanding. Surely it is possible to teach multiplication by continuous addition until the principle is understood and then have children learn tables by rote for speed and accuracy?

Breachwood Green, Hertfordshire

Sir: The sneering tone of your leader "Old Times" (9 September) was uncalled for. I can't say I enjoyed learning by rote in my schooldays but - like PE lessons in a freezing playground - it didn't do me any harm. Because of rote, I have a good grasp of spelling, can still do my 10 times table and continue to enjoy mentally reciting poetry which I was forced to ingest.

This was at a primary and secondary modern school where I don't recall seeing a single mortar board.

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

No more junk

Sir: Targets for losing junk mail is an enticing prospect (letters, 9 September), but while we are waiting for Royal Mail to set them up, help is at hand. Can I remind readers of the Mailing Preference Service? Registering with this service will, in my experience, cut out unwanted mail by over 90 per cent. Write to them at FREEPOST 22, London W1E 7EZ. And if David Bainbridge also wants to rid himself of letters to "The Occupier," he needs to write a second letter to the Customer Support Unit, Royal Mail, Wheatstone House, Wheatstone Road, Dorcan, Swindon SN3 5JW.

London N21

Heartening statistics?

Sir: Doctors never were much good at statistics, but this takes the biscuit. "Kulvinder Lall performed 46 coronary bypasses in his first three months as consultant ... His death rate was 'less than 1 per cent', he said" ("Death rates of heart surgeons revealed", 11 September). If no patients died his death rate was 0 per cent; if only one patient died his death rate was 1 in 46, ie 2.17 per cent. Makes you wonder how they manage to analyse the difficult stuff.

London W3

Cooks and citizens

Sir: Janet Street-Porter suggests that compulsory cookery should replace citizenship classes in schools to solve obesity ("When will parents start to grow up", 9 September).

Being able to cook, important though it is, shouldn't be pitted against playing a part in democratic society. Citizenship education encourages young people to evaluate information critically, make informed choices and take personal responsibility for their actions - whether choosing how to vote or follow a recipe. Responsible citizenship and responsible cookery are both key ingredients in tackling obesity.

Deputy Chair,
Citizenship Foundation
London EC2

Uncrowned king

Sir: I note that in your feature on divorce (4 September), Edward VIII is reported as having relinquished his throne only a few months after his coronation. He is known as "the Uncrowned King" because he did not have a coronation - there had not been time to arrange it before he abdicated. Your writer should have said "after his accession". A small, but very important, distinction.

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Tory tactics

Sir: Yesterday I opened my door to a lady canvassing on behalf of the Conservative Party. She gave me a leaflet complete with a picture of a gleaming Michael Howard and asked whether I usually supported the Conservatives. I replied that I didn't. To which she responded by snatching back her leaflet with the words, "You won't need this then".

Might I suggest the Tories should try harder if they want to win the next election?

London W12