Instrumental Music Service - Open Letter to Perth & Kinross Council

Perth Festival of the Arts has published an open letter sent to the Chief Executive of Perth & Kinross Council on 25 March 2024 raising our concerns over the reductions to the Instrumental Music Service for young people. 

Published 25 March 2024

Dear Mr Glen,

I write on behalf of one of Perth’s longstanding and major arts organisations, Perth Festival of the Arts, regarding the recently agreed reductions to Perth & Kinross Instrumental Music Service (IMS).

We note that service reductions resulting in financial savings to the Council over the next 3 years were agreed as part of the Council’s recent budget meeting. We note that these reductions will affect 3.5 FTE staff posts, which we understand is the equivalent of [up to] 12 part-time positions within the service; a third of its staffing. We note that Full Cost Recovery for both Central Groups and attendance at Music Camps has been agreed.

Naturally, we are very concerned about the impact of these reductions on opportunities for young people of all ages in Perth & Kinross. The IMS plays a vital role in supporting young people to learn instruments from an early age and brings young people together to perform and develop positively as peers through central groups and music camps. The reduction in staffing will inevitably lead to a drop in the reach and scale of IMS provision across the area, which in turn has the strong potential to lead to a drop in pupil attainment across the curriculum, and an increase in the attainment gap.

The benefits of instrumental tuition and participation in making-music with others to young people are significant. This includes:

  • The development of artistic and technical skills and disciplines as performers: performance and theoretical skills that are essential to pass SQA qualifications in music.
  • Positive wide-ranging impacts on wellbeing, self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • The development of skills in leadership, teamwork and supporting peers through group performance.
  • The opportunity to contribute to the fabric of community life in Perth & Kinross

As examples, four of our Festival Board and management have been through the IMS as young people in the 80s, 90s and 00s, learning instruments from a very young age. In many respects, their musical journeys and indeed, their professional careers in the arts today as singers, teachers, composers, conductors and in other roles are owed to these early experiences, inspirations and opportunities.

Throughout the year, the IMS staff team work in partnership with many local organisations to support performance opportunities out-with the school environment for young performers involved in central groups. Through these opportunities, young musicians make an important contribution to the cultural and civic life of Perth & Kinross. We understand that the cuts to the service will create significant challenges for the continuation of central groups and by extension these types of opportunities. 

Since Perth Festival of the Arts’ inception in the 1970s, young musicians have performed at our weekly Lunchtime Concert Series for schools and as part of Perth Youth Orchestra in the Festival Service. These performance opportunities continue today, 52 years later, and would not be possible without the outstanding contributions of the IMS staff.

In our forthcoming Festival in May 2024, we are hosting no less than seven lunchtime concerts for young musicians during the Festival run and a performance opportunity with Perth Youth Orchestra in St John’s Kirk. We will also host a masterclass for young percussionists in Perth & Kinross Percussion Ensemble with a visiting professional who is performing a show at the Festival. Again, this has been organised in partnership with IMS staff.

The impact of these opportunities must not be underestimated. As well as contributing to the cultural life of the region, they enable young performers to perform out-with the school environment - reaching new audiences and refining performance skills to a high standard. This is excellent preparation for school exams, auditions, and other opportunities that lie ahead.

We are also concerned to note that access to Music Camps and Central Groups will be on a Full Cost Recovery basis and note that this will create barriers to participation for many young people and has the potential to transform music participation into a primarily parent-funded service.

Finally, we would note that the decision to reduce this essential service appears to be directly at odds with the Scottish Government’s position to increase support for free music tuition across all Scottish schools.

We would urge Perth & Kinross Council to reconsider this position and more fully consider the wide-ranging impact that this reduction will have on both young people and communities in Perth & Kinross.

Yours sincerely, 

Craig Dennis, Chairman, on behalf of Perth Festival of the Arts Board