Just in: 200 musicians attack Guardian writer

Just in: 200 musicians attack Guardian writer


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2017

More than two hundred musicians have written to the Guardian newspaper in response to an article by Charlotte C. Gill  titled ‘Music education is now only for the white and wealthy‘.

Ms Gill argued that teaching children to read music is elitist.

You can read the letter below – it has yet to be published – along with the long list of signatories. Among them are the composers Tansy Davies, Richard Barrett, Ivan Moody and Adam Gorb.

If you want to add your name, contact Ian Pace here.

UPDATE: Simon Rattle signs.

Charlotte C. Gill (‘Music education is now only for the white and wealthy’) argues that ‘to enable more children to learn [music], we must stop teaching in such an academic way.’ While rightly noting the increasing chasm between state and private education in terms of music provision, her conclusions about musical notation and theoretical skills amount to simple anti-intellectualism.

Gill dismisses the study of music ‘theory’ and argues patronisingly that musical notation is ‘a cryptic, tricky language (…) that can only be read by a small number of people’. This claim flies in the face of countless initiatives over two centuries making musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds. As with written language, musical notation enables effective and accurate communication, as well as critical access to huge amounts of knowledge. In many musical fields, those without it will be at a deep disadvantage and dependent upon others.

Gill’s comments about ‘limited repertoires of old, mostly classical music’ are unfounded and presented without evidence: composing, listening, singing, and playing are embedded in much musical education, which also widely encompasses jazz, popular, and non-Western traditions. Claiming that classical music comprises a limited repertory is inaccurate: composers have been adding to its repertory for centuries and continue to do so. We agree with Gill that aural and other skills are equally important as those in notation. However, through her romanticisation of illiteracy, Gill’s position could serve to make literate musical education even more exclusive through being marginalised in state schools yet further.

Jim Aitchison, composer and graphic score artist
Helen Alexander, freelance musician
Ralph Allwood, music teacher
Pedro Alvarez, composer, Adjunct Lecturer, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts
Paul Andrews, Anglican priest with PhD in music, former music librarian and choral conductor
Genevieve Arkle, PhD candidate in Music, University of Surrey
Jessica Aszodi, vocalist, doctoral candidate, Queensland Conservatorium of Music
John Aulich, composer, freelance tutor in composition and theory, and recording artist.
Brendan Ball, trumpeter and educator
Nicholas Bannan, Associate Professor of Music, University of Western Australia
Stephen Barber, Retired music teacher
Matthew Barley, cellist
Lester Barnes, composer, producer, and former music teacher
Richard Barrett, composer, Institute of Sonology, The Hague
Adam Bell, composer, doctoral student, Brunel University
Rebecca Berkley, Lecturer in Music Education, University of Reading
Mark Berry, Senior Lecturer in Music, Royal Holloway, University of London
Noel Bertram, Retired Head of Cumbria County Music Service
George Bevan, Director of Music, Monkton School
Dr. C.M. Biggs, performer; Director of Piano Studies, Cambrian College
James Black, MSt. in Musicology, University of Oxford
Kate Blackstone, freelance musician, PhD researcher, University of Leeds
Darren Bloom, composer, Lead Tutor for Composition and Musicianship, Junior Trinity
Andrew Bottrill, pianist
Mark Bowden, freelance composer; Reader in Composition, Royal Holloway, University of London
Andrew Bowie, jazz musician, Professor of Philosophy and German, Royal Holloway, University of London
Laura Bowler, composer, vocalist, Lecturer in Composition at Royal Northern College of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Anne Brown, primary school music teacher
Harvey Brown, secondary music teacher and musician
Janice Brown, piano teacher
Mariko Brown, teacher, pianist, and composer
Robin Browning, conductor; Conducting Instructor, University of Southampton
Martin Butler, composer, pianist, Professor, University of Sussex
Peter Byrom-Smith, composer
Sara Caine, singer & oboist, GP
Jacqui Cameron, Education Director, Opera North
Gerry Carleston, B Mus, retired violinist and teacher
Stephen Carleston, organist & choir-trainer, music examiner and arranger
Tim Carleston, lay clerk, St George’s chapel, Windsor Castle
Gary Carpenter FRNCM, HonRAM, FRSA. Composer, composition professor Royal Academy of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, BASCA Director
Philip Cashian, Head of Composition, Royal Academy of Music
Alan Cassar, composer and arranger
Oliver Chandler, Visiting Tutor in Historical Musicology, Royal Holloway, University of London
Anthony Cheung, composer, pianist, teacher (University of Chicago), co-artistic director of the Talea Ensemble
Pablo Santiago Chin, Adjunct Instructor, Music Theory and Composition, Saint Xavier University
Ray Chinn, violin teacher
Peter Cigleris, clarinetist, BMus (Hons), PGDip, Royal College of Music
Keith W Clancy, artist/composer/computer musician, Melbourne, Australia
Colin Stuart Clarke, Classical music journalist
Nicholas Clapton, singer and singing teacher
James Clarke, composer, Researcher, University of Leeds
Chris Collins, Head of Music, Bangor University
Sarah Connolly, opera singer and teacher
James Cook, University Teacher in Music, University of Sheffield
Rachel Cowgill, Professor and Head of Music and Drama, University of Huddersfield
Franklin Cox, Associate Professor of Theory, Cello, and Composition, Wright State University
Francis Cummings, violinist and Director of Music at Sistema Scotland, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
David Curran, freelance music educator, PhD Candidate, Royal Holloway, University of London
Steven Daverson, composer, Lecturer in Compostion and Sonic Arts, Brunel University London
Gavin Davies, freelance violinist
Tansy Davies, composer
Rebecca Day, Visiting Lecturer, Royal Holloway, University of London; Tutor in Music Theory and Analysis, University of Oxford
Caroline D’Cruz, B.Mus, ARCM, LRAM pianist and choral conductor
Nathan James Dearden, Performance Manager and Visiting Tutor in Music Composition, Royal Holloway University of London
Simon Desbruslais, trumpet soloist and Director of Performance, University of Hull
Josephine Dickinson, former music teacher, composer, and poet
Emily Doolittle, composer, Athenaeum Research Fellow, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
John Duggan, composer, singer, teacher
Jason Eckardt, Professor, City University of New York
Dr Paul Max Edlin, composer, Director of Music Queen Mary University of London, Artistic Director Deal Festival of Music and the Arts
Barbara Eichner, Senior Lecturer in Music, Oxford Brookes University
Aaron Einbond, composer, Lecturer in Music, City, University of London
Daniel Elphick, Teaching Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London
Mark Elvin, Bass Guitarist, Double Bassist, Tubist, Composer/Arranger/Transcriber, Educator, Conductor
Daniel Fardon, PhD student in Composition and Teaching Associate at University of Birmingham
Greta Fenney, therapist
Adam Fergler, composer, arranger, and conductor
Laetitia Federici, freelance pianist and peripatetic piano teacher
Cal Fell BA Hons LRAM Freelance musician State Educated
Coia Ibàñez Ferrater, Director of Xilofon Elementary School of Music
Chris Fisher-Lochhead, composer and violist
Dr Alexandra Fol, composer; conductor and organist at Missione Maria Ausiliatrice, Montréal, Canada
Peter Foster. Music Teacher
Christopher Fox, composer, Professor of Music, Brunel University
Cheryl Frances-Hoad, composer
Luke Fraser MMus, composer and Piano Teacher for Arts First
Brigid Frazer, Kodaly based Early Years Music Specialist
Judith Fromyhr, Senior Lecturer in Music, Australian Catholic University
Hugh Fullarton,Organist and Master of the Choristers at Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Wangaratta
Ben Gaunt, Senior Lecturer Leeds College of Music, Tutor Open College of the Arts
Patricia Giannattasio, Professor of Music, Bergen College in New Jersey; PhD candidate at The Graduate Center
Don Gillthorpe, Director of Music and Performing Arts, Ripley St. Thomas CE Academy
Hannah Gill, pianist, organist, choral conductor and music teacher
Rob Godman, Composer, Reader in Music at the University of Hertfordshire
Nigel Goldberg Artistic Director Youth Music Centre
Miles Golding BMus, LTCL, LRSM, free-lance violinist, teacher of violin, viola, music theory
Richard Gonski Conductor Torbay Symphony Orchestra
Liz Goodwin, teacher, founder/director Flutewise
Sumanth Gopinath, Associate Professor of Music Theory, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities
Adam Gorb, Head of School of Composition, Royal Northern College of Music
Stephen Goss, Professor, University of Surrey
Dr. Barbara Graham, Retired Professor, Ball State University and amateur violist
Dr Michael Graham – postgraduate researcher, Royal Holloway; tutor, Rhondda Cynon Taff music service
Penny Grant, Singing Teacher and Soprano
Coady Green, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Gavin Greenaway, composer, conductor, pianist
Nicole Grimes, Assistant Professor of Musicology, University of California, Irvine
Marc-André Hamelin, pianist
Ross Hamilton, Peripatetic Percussion Teacher, Cornwall Music Service Trust
Helen Hampton, Director, Popchoir
Patrick Harrex, composer and Musical Director of Brighton & Hove Arts Orchestra
Sadie Harrison, secondary school peripatetic teacher of piano and music theory; composer and lecturer
Jeremy Hawker B.mus, M.Teach, L.mus, professional guitarist and instrumental tutor at Townsville Grammar School
Steve Hawker, Inclusion Manager, Cornwall Music Service Trust
Morgan Hayes, Professor of Composition, Royal Academy of Music
Benjamin Hebbert, Director, Benjamin Hebbert Violins Limited
Andrew Henderson, singer, keyboard player, secondary school Director of Music, primary school governor, committee member, MMA – Music Teaching Professionals
Áine Heneghan, Assistant Professor of Music Theory, University of Michigan
Ken Hesketh, composer, Lecturer, Royal College of Music
Julian Horton, Professor of Music, Durham University
Tim Horton, pianist
Janet Hoskyns, Professor Emerita, Birmingham City University
Dr Jocelyn Howell
Alexander Hunter, composer and performer, Australian National University
Derek Hurst, Associate Professor of Composition, Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory
David Hutchings, conductor
Miika Hyytiäinen, composer, doctoral student, University of the Arts Helsinki
Dr Jenny Jackson, composer & private piano teacher
Julian Jacobson, musician
Frauke Jurgensen, musician, Lecturer, University of Aberdeen
Rob Keeley, composer and pianist, King’s College
Dorothy Ker, Composer, Senior Lecturer University of Sheffield
Christopher Kimbell, Visiting Tutor in Historical Musicology, Royal Holloway, University of London; peripatetic teacher in music theory
Owen Kilfeather, composer and writer
George King, Head and Senior Lecturer (retired), Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology, University of South Africa
Helen Kingstone, Postdoctoral Researcher in History, Leeds Trinity University (and pianist and choral singer)
Ruth Knell,  violinist, English National Ballet. Learnt to read music initially at the age of 6/7 in recorder lessons at an infant school on a council estate in the 60s
Annabel Knight, head of recorder, Birmingham Conservatoire
Kathryn Knight, CEO Tido Music and a director/founder of Sing Up
Kevin Korsyn, Professor of Music Theory, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Toni J. Krein, President of the Association of Swiss Professional Orchestras
Uday Krishnakumar, Composer
Elizabeth Eva Leach, Professor of Music, University of Oxford
Christian Leitmeir, Magdalen College, University of Oxford
PerMagnus Lindborg, composer, Assistant Professor, School of Art, Design, and Media,  Singapore
Dr Alexander Lingas, Reader in Music, City, University of London; Fellow, European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford; Music Director, Cappella Romana
Rodney Lister, faculty department of composition and theory, Boston University School of Music, faculty The New England Conservatory Preparatory School
Dave Longman, drummer, percussionist, teacher and author of “Skins Drum Performance Method”
Sonia Lovett, television director of opera and classical music concerts
Shay Loya, Lecturer in Music, City, University of London
Karl Lutchmayer, Senior Lecturer, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Frances M Lynch, singer, director, composer, teacher
Graham Lynch, composer
Tracey Mair, freelance piano and vocal tutor
Joshua Banks Mailman, Instructor of Music Theory, University of Alabama
Charles MacDougall, founding member of VOCES8, currently Choral Specialist for The Voices Foundation
Nigel McBride, Composer, BMus (Hons), MSt. in Composition (Oxon.), DPhil in Music (Oxon.)
Rachel McCarthy, doctoral candidate and visiting tutor, Royal Holloway, University of London
Paul McCreesh, conductor, founder and artistic director, Gabrieli
Elizabeth Macdonald – violist and arts administratorGeraldine McElearney, GSM,singing and piano teacher
Peter McMullin, Printed Music Specialist, Blackwell’s Music Shop
Katherine Marriott, mezzo-soprano
Chris Marshall, Head of Professional Development, Birmingham Conservatoire
Cecília Melo, Magistrate
Virgílio Melo, composer
Chris Mercer, composer, Lecturer, Northwestern University
Nathan Mercieca, Teaching Associate, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University
Jonathan Midgley, lay clerk, Ely Cathedral
Madeleine Mitchell, state-school educated violinist, professor, Royal College of Music
Cara Ellen Modisett, pianist, Episcopal music director and essayist
Alison Moncrieff-Kelly, cellist, music educator, and examiner
Josephine Montgomery, violinist, early years string teacher
Ivan Moody, composer, CESEM – Universidade Nova, Lisbon
Eva Moreda Rodriguez, Lecturer in Music, University of Glasgow
Dittany Morgan, former Sub principal Viola BBC symphony and teacher of Violin/ Viola
Huw Morgan, freelance choral director and organist
Kate Morgan, Director of Music, Harrogate Ladies’ College
Katie Morgan, flautist, music writer, and flute and music theory teacher
Catherine Motuz, trombonist
Theresa Muir, Ph.D. Musicology, conductor and singer
Gordon Munro, Director of Music, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Rachel Musgrove, director, daytime choirs for retirees
Thi Nguyen , GSMD, IoE (MA in Music Education), violinist and teacher
Mike Nichols, Bassist. ACM lecturer, ABRSM consultant. Regularly work in orchestras and non reading bands
George Nicholson, composer, Professor in Composition, University of Sheffield
Mariko North, pianist
Michael Nyman, composer
Lady Anita O’Brien, Violinist/ Music Teacher
Dolors Olivé Vernet, music teacher, Headmaster, Teresa Miquel i Pàmies Elementary School
Des Oliver, composer
Richard Osmond, Director of Music, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School
Ian Pace, pianist, Lecturer, Head of Performance, City, University of London
Joan Arnau Pàmies, composer, Aural Skills Instructor, Northwestern University
Dr Tom Pankhurst, Music Teacher and Author
Tom Parkinson, composer and sound designer, Royal Holloway, University of London
Jenny Pearson, freelance cellist, teacher at Severn Arts Worcester
Damian Penfold, conductor and primary school governor
Ian Penwarden-Allen, choral conductor and teacher of music
Selah Perez-Villar, pianist and music educator
Stephen Pettitt, writer and critic
David Pickvance, film and TV composer, composer-in-residence to the BBC
John Pitts, composer and music teacher
Tamasine Plowman MA
Rosie Pollock, BMus MA (learned notation aged 6/7)
Benjamin Pope, Conductor working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestras
Caroline Potter, Reader in Music, Kingston University
Eleri Angharad Pound, freelance harpist and composer, amateur choir singer
Jonathan Powell, pianist
Scott Price, Director of Music, The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Peter Puskás, promoter and artist manager
Sanna Raninen, Research Associate, University of Sheffield
Manvinder Rattan, CEO and Head of Conductor Training, Sing for Pleasure
Carla Rees, Music Programme Leader, Open College of the Arts
Camden Reeves, Professor and Head of Music, University of Manchester
Sally Richardson, Artist Manager; owner of Tashmina Artists
Dr Tim Ridley, Director of Music, Glenalmond Gollege
Judith Robinson, Creative Project Leader for Education, Sound and Music
Martin Roscoe, pianist, Professor, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Pamela Rose, ABRSM Theory Examiner, Music Educator
Cyrilla Rowsell, Kodály specialist, teacher at GSMD and for the British Kodály Academy, co-author of Jolly Music
Edward Rushton, composer and pianist
Julian Rushton, Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Leeds
Isabelle Ryder, private piano teacher
Helen Sanderson, Winston Churchill Fellowship in guitar education, Artistic Director of National Youth Guitar Ensemble, CEO of Guitar Circus, guitar professor at RWCMD
Melinda Sawers, Director of Music, Wadhurst, Melbourne Grammar School (Australia)
Thomas Schmidt, Professor of Music, University of Manchester
Annelies Scott ARAM, cello and music theory teacher
Fred Scott, founder, Soundpractice Music
Jeffrey Siegfried, saxophonist, doctoral candidate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Linda Shaver-Gleason, PhD Musicology, University of California, Santa Barbara
Rachel Shirley, Music teacher; PhD researcher in Music Education, Lancaster University
Andre Shlimon, musician and teacher
Nigel Simeone, music teacher, English Martyrs’ Catholic School
Mark Simpson, BBC Philharmonic Composer in Association and former BBC Young Musician of the year 2006
Shirley Smart, jazz cellist, musicianship and improvisation teacher, City, University of London, and Royal College of Music Junior Department
Ben Smith, pianist and composer, postgraduate student, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
David J. Smith, Professor of Music, University of Aberdeen
Tim Smith, Director of Music, St. Mary Harrow on the Hill/Arts Faculty Leader, Heathland School
Ernest So, concert pianist
Stephen Soderberg, Senior Specialist for Contemporary Music (retired), Music Division, Library of Congress
Zoë South, (state-educated) professional opera singer, singing teacher
Shauna Spargo, amateur violinist, soprano in the local church choir (learned to read music at 6 when I had free violin lessons at a state primary school)
Simon Speare, Head of Composition and Contemporary Music, Royal College of Music Junior Department
Mic Spencer, Associate Professor of Music, University of Leeds
Mary Stagg, Primary Music specialist
Clare Stevens, music journalist
Owain Sutton, private instrumental teacher
Aleks Szram, Academic Lecturer and Piano Professorial Staff, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Caitriona Talbot BA Mod, freelance music tutor, Sefton
Diego Jiménez Tamame, composer
Christopher Tarrant, Lecturer in Music, Anglia Ruskin University
Mark Tatlow, conductor, educator, researcher Department of Culture & Aesthetics, University of Stockholm
Alun Thomas, professional violinist /Alexander Technique Coordinator Trinty Laban
Phillip Tolley, Choral Music Advocate, British Choirs on the Net
Mikel Toms, conductor
Julian Tovey, singer and lecturer, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Simon Toyne, Executive Director of Music, David Ross Education Trust
Peter Tregear, Professor, Royal Holloway, University of London
John Traill, Director of Music, St. Anne’s College, Oxford University; Director, Oxford Conducting Institute
Natalie Tsaldarikis, pianist, teacher, PhD student, City, University of London
John Van der Slice, composer
Simon Vincent, composer, performer, and former Visiting Lecturer at City University London, University of Bayreuth, University of Potsdam and University of Applied Sciences Potsdam
Matthew Vine, volunteer music teacher (Kampala, Uganda)
Alison Wahl, soprano, singer-songwriter, and music teacher
Charlie Wakely, Physics teacher and amateur musician
Helen Wallace, Kings Place Music Foundation, Soundsense Music
Richard Wallace, violist Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, viola tutor Bangor University
David Warburton MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Select Committee on Music Education
Jenny Warren, maths teacher and classical soprano who learned to sight read at state school
Rachel Watson, cellist, cello teacher with experience of secondary school teaching
James Webb, Director of Music, Hull Collegiate School
James Weeks, composer, Associate Head of Composition, Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Richard Whalley,  Senior Lecturer in Composition, University of Manchester.
Dr Anthony Whittaker, composer, piano teacher and examiner
Christopher Wiley, National Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Surrey
Ceri Williams, music teacher
James Williamson. Composer, PhD candidate at the University of York
Andrew Wilson, Freelance musician, and Head Teacher, Teesside High School
Jay Wilkinson, flute and theory teacher
Katherine Williams, Lecturer in Music and Head of Performance, Plymouth University
Frances Wilson LTCL (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist); pianist, writer, and teacher
Jaye Wood, BA Hons, freelance classical piano and voice teacher
Toby Wood, Music recording engineer and producer
Catherine Woodman. Head of Keyboard Studies at Redmaids High School and examiner
Kenneth Woods, Artistic Director, English Symphony Orchestra
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, opera singer and teacher
Anna Wyse, B.Eng. M.Sc.(Eng), AIEMA
Joshua D. Xerri, Sub-Organist (St Alphege, Solihull), singer, composer
Amit Yahav, pianist, doctoral student, Royal College of Music
Marc Yeats, composer and visual artist
Toby Young, composer, Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford
Jay Alan Yim, composer, Associate Professor of Music, Northwestern University
Alistair Zaldua, composer and conductor, visiting lecturer in Music, Canterbury Christ Church University
Julio Zúñiga, composer, graduate student, Harvard University



  • John says:

    What a stupid woman! Why does the Guardian entertain this kind of rubbish?

    • Miles Golding says:

      Indeed. I only recently became a Supporter. Thinking now of pulling out. Hasn’t Katherine Viner heard ot Quality Control?

    • Mike Schachter says:

      This is exactly the sort of rubbish the Guardian loves. Classical music has been written by dead white males, so uncool don’t you know.

      • laurie says:

        This politically correct rubbish would not have made it into the paper if Rusbridger was still there. He has and still has a great appreciation for music.

      • Holly Golightly says:

        Absolutely spot on. The Guardianists as generally of the garden “have not” variety, which includes intelligence. Everybody is a victim and everybody is parsed into a separate identity.

        Listen up!! This is not the key to success.

    • Brian B says:

      Do you remember the British professor who, noting that studies show children whose parents read to them when young did better in school later, urged not that more parents should read to their children but that those who do should stop because it was and “unfair” advantage over the children who don’t get read to. It was eltist to read to your kids.
      You can’t make this stuff up.
      Devolution really is a thing.

      • pooroperaman says:

        This is the abiding fear of Lefties – and especially the more stupid ones – in a nutshell: that anyone might be cleverer or more talented than someone else.

        They don’t fear it for the reasons they state, that society might somehow be weakened if everybody’s abilities weren’t precisely equal. They fear it because, deep down, they understand that they are very, very stupid themselves, and if they don’t do their utmost to keep everyone else down, they will be overtaken and overtaken and overtaken again, and end up at the very back of every single queue.

        There’s only one thing a professed egalitarian ever wants, after all – to come first in every race.

        • Hilary says:

          Gill isn’t a leftie. Far from it.

          • pooroperaman says:

            Sorry, anyone who uses ‘elitist’ in this way is a leftie, by definition.

          • Alistair Hinton says:

            Anyone who uses the term “élitist” as Ms Gill has done in her piece is not a “leftie” but one who shows herself to be unaware of its correct meaning and usage.

  • Simone says:

    Not every student will benefit from alphabetization: some can learn aurally, others through pictures or shapes. I speak through moving my mouth alone. Sure, I may not be able to tell the difference between a bottle of aspirin and one of barbiturates, but I can order a burger at McDonald’s. That is all I ever wanted from language.
    My mom wrote this message.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I know of a viola student who got through his solo exam (cum laude) at the conservatory by playing, brilliantly, the William Walton concerto, which he had memorized entirely by ear from recordings because he did not have the patience to learn the solo part from the music. Nobody of the jury had any clue. Of course, this chap never developed a career in classical music, and went into entertainment musical theatre stuff where reading music was not needed. But such things prove that music is not the notation but the playing.

      Also we know that Bartok went into the country side of the Balkans with a grammophone recorder and tried to both record the singing of the peasants and to write down what they did which was very hard since the folky music was, of course, never notated. Rumours have it that the peasants concerned exercised subtle tonal deviations just for fun to make notation even more difficult.

      • Simone says:

        There may be people who can play the Walton concerto by ear. Question is: are they the majority of people? What about the orchestra players behind him? Did the orchestra rehearse be ear too? You see the point.

        That said, of course music is not the notation, just like language is not the alphabet. I can even say that, no matter how detailed the notation gets, it will never be able to objectively and unequivocally describe how to play. And that’s partly why we call musicians interpreters.

  • Jennifer Hillman says:

    Maybe Charlotte Gill suffered from inadequate music education herself. Always willing to help! Musical literacy, with an aural understanding and a general knowledge of the structure of music make the backbone of the musician’s and the music lover’s world.

  • Henry says:

    Music education in most schools doesn’t do any good. It just does harm.

    Here’s a principle to remember whenever you think it’s a good idea to force school kids to learn anything:

    ‘Any program conducted in a school environment instills contempt in its students because it is done under compulsion’

    It is why anti-smoking programs fail in the US.

    • Steve P says:

      As a music educator in a public school, I respectfully disagree. Music education does a great deal more good promoting music than slamming students noses into geometric proofs ever did for the love mathematics; than poetry explication ever did for the composition of poetry; than sentence diagramming ever did for appreciating a nove.; and etc.
      Okay, I take back the respectfully part: you are a buffoon.

    • David Port says:

      I don’t know where you get your statistics on smoking in America from but cigarette smoking has hit the lowest point ever among American adults.

      The percentage of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes was 17.8 percent in 2013, a drop from 20.9 percent in 2005, and the lowest rate of smoking since researchers began tracking this figure in 1965, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Ian Pace says:

    But it can get even worse than Gill’s article. Kendra Leonard, a Texas musicologist, has devised a scheme for publicly humiliating any students who have had exposure to classical music when young, on ground of their ‘privilege’. This beggars belief; as far as I can tell Leonard doesn’t have a regular teaching position, which is a relief, but these types of things have been used in other US campuses.

    In most cases, those behind these things are themselves highly privileged, but know they can gain a lot of academic capital from virtue-signalling.


    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Grief, what a load of untreated sewage. What good do these people honestly think they’re doing?

    • pooroperaman says:

      An idea taken directly from the Cultural Revolution, it would seem.

      • Brian B says:

        Indeed, it is an incremental process (not progress) towards Mao-ism in the West. A frightening dystopian future awaits us and our children.

    • Alistair Hinton says:

      Yes, it does beggar belief, but I couldn’t help noticing the date on it which, subject to which order the day and month are, might look to be that of Busoni’s and Rachmaninoff’s joint birthday, namely 1 April! But perhaps it isn’t and, if you saw it before that date, it might be 4 January, of course. If it’s meant to be a serious piece, it even succeeds in putting Ms Gill in the shade by reason of its even greater absurdity and offensiveness.

  • Robin Bermanseder says:

    Does she not have a valid point regarding the outdated western music notation?

    In biology, the Linnaean classification system has recently been replaced by the much more informative system of cladistics.

    English evolved from Middle English to the modern form 500 years ago, with significant improvements introduced by Shakespeare.

    In comparison, music notation (5 line format) was first used by the French composer Pérotin in approx. 1200 AD and despite some additions has not fundamentally changed since that time.

    Shortfalls of the notation became obvious following the emancipation of pitch and rhythm, to the extent that some pieces become impossible to convey without patches (an accidental on every note?) and copious annotations by the composer.
    The notation has becomes a barrier and needs replacing with one which better communicates musical concepts relevant to all music, equally useful for African, Indian, Polynesian and other music traditions.

    Perhaps, mirroring the use of Latin by Doctors/Lawyers/Priests to isolate the lower classes, the current notation exists to support the established elite and institutions rather than the musician?

    • Ian Pace says:

      Various composers, including Ferruccio Busoni, Josef Matthias Hauer, Henri Pousseur, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann, have experimented with alternative notation systems, in particular which do not require accidentals. I’ve played a few pieces from such scores. They have never caught on, and I’ve not been aware of any major demand from performers for such things – quite the contrary.

      • John Borstlap says:

        There has also been something like ‘Klavarscribo’, a notation type based upon the location of the fingers on a keyboard, which was supposed to be much easier than oldfashioned notation. It never came very far, not even for people playing the piano, because in the end it was much more difficult to relate the ‘grips’ to what you hear than the ‘oldfashioned’ notation type.

    • Simone says:

      By comparing music notation to English you are confusing the alphabet with the language. The alphabet has remained mostly the same for thousands years, while of course language has changed incredibly. The same goes with music. Notation is not the music, it is the alphabet, the group of signs people use to write down music of any period. And by the way notation itself has evolved and new signs have been invented to properly describe new ways of playing or even notes that didn’t belong to our tuning system.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, I propose that the entire classical repertoire be re-notated in a much easier system that is equally accessible to the mind of all animals.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Your comment would be more convincing if you had written it in Esperanto.

    • pooroperaman says:

      Yes, indeed, it would be a great step forward to replace notation that most musicians can read with one that no musician can read.

    • Mark says:

      (a) Does she not have a valid point regarding the outdated western music notation?
      Yes, she does not have a valid point. She is neither suggesting a new system nor objecting to the existing system of music notation: she is saying that people should remain ignorant of music notation unless they are part of an “elite”, i.e., literacy is only for a few. That’s the most arrogant, aristocratic, and condescending attitude toward people that I have encountered.

      (b) English evolved from Middle English to the modern form 500 years ago, with significant improvements introduced by Shakespeare.
      “Changed” would be more accurate than “evolved”. Shakespeare improved the language by using it, and not all of his innovations in vocabulary have “stuck”. He lived at a time when much of culture and society were changing, due in part to increased trade, and had the advantage of over 100 years of printing, which had standardized English: it was no longer true that dialects 50 miles apart were often mutually incomprehensible (as it had been before Chaucer). Are you suggesting that current forms of English are either superior or inferior to the English of Shakespeare (and the Authorized Version of the Bible, I might add)? We speak differently, not better.

      (c) the use of Latin by Doctors/Lawyers/Priests to isolate the lower classes
      I was taught Latin in high school. Shakespeare was taught Latin in primary school. Our English — his and mine — is better for it. (And, by the way, apparently priests are no longer required to learn Latin.) Suggesting that doctors use Latin to avoid communicating with patients is absurd: I’ve never had a doctor who tried to speak to me in Latin. Doctors, lawyers, and horticulturalists — even serious gardeners — use it because the subject matter is more precisely described that way. One advantage that Latin has over a current vernacular is that it does not change: the documents written 100 years ago can be understood today without worrying about differences in usage, as far as the Latin goes.

      (d) the current notation exists to support the established elite and institutions rather than the musician
      As with the doctor/lawyer/horticulturalist and Latin, the stability of music notation facilitates the musician’s reading of 8 centuries of notated music. Failing to teach it means isolating the musician from his or her rightful inheritance: knowledge.

      There is no excuse for pushing illiteracy as a policy. It doesn’t make people more equal, or more creative. Illiteracy stunts people, cripples culture, and prevents progress. That is as true of musical illiteracy as it is of any other area of knowledge. It is horribly, destructively elitist to claim that some people — or most people — should be deprived of the opportunity to learn something, especially when you think it’s already known by only a small number of people.

  • Mascara Snake says:

    Gill keeps us in the dark about her skin colour. If that is white, I suggest that she jump off a high building as atonement for centuries of white supremacy and exploitation.

  • Paul Kelly says:

    This is a really poor piece of journalism. It takes three completely different issues and tries to fashion them into a single coherent argument, unsupported by facts.

    The central premise seems to be: “I struggled to learn to read music at school and to this day can’t sight read. Lots of good music has been made by people who can’t read music. Therefore teaching people music notation is elitist and wrong.”
    The piece actually starts with the argument that music making in schools is declining and tries to connect these two arguments.

    Allied to this is a notion of elitism and because classical musicians can read music and most are, apparently privately educated, they are elitist.

    1. It’s not a musical style issue. Lots of jazz and pop/rock musicians have to be able to read music. Many session musicians who perform on high selling and popular pieces can read music – they have to be able to do so. That’s central to how the music is organised. If you want to get music recorded within a 3 hour session, you will need ‘lead sheets’ with some written notation. It’s not elitist, it’s the way music works and it’s efficient.

    2. Yes, teaching music in schools is reportedly declining. It’s not because notation is elitist. It’s because the government has decided music is not educationally important and has not prioritised the teaching of music. They are of course wrong, but that’s another argument entirely. If schools stopped teaching English so people could no longer read novels or newspapers would that make the English language elitist?

    3. There are actually quite a lot of opportunities for people who cannot read music well, or at all, to participate in music making. Community choirs – some of which are wonderful, Music Zones who have lots of great ensembles. And I am sure there are others.

    I regard myself as very musical, and like Charlotte I have Grade 8. But I’m not a very good reader. It just means that I can get to a certain level and not much further. That’s not elitism. It’s about ability. And strangely many of us have different levels of ability. And I know that much as I would love to be a better musician, there are other things I can do that many musicians are not good at or don’t want to do.

    Anyway if she’d done her research properly she would have read up on El Sistema.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      Excellent post, Paul. I hope the author of the Guardian piece reads it.

      You say you are not a very good sight reader – do you think this is because you didn’t do enough of it as a younger student, or do you think some people happen to find it easier than others?

      • Paul Kelly says:

        Thanks! I can read but I am bad at reading ahead. I am much more comfortable improvising. You could interpret that as inspiration vs discipline. But possibly not in my case.

        • Dave says:

          My sight-reading’s definitely affected by dyslexia. But so’s my ability to read text quickly. I’ve developed strategies to try and get to the heart of the notation as quickly as possible, like with text. There are quite a few things which make notation difficult for individuals to read, but good exposure at an early age always makes it a tool we can fall back on. I’m now conducting professionally, so I wouldn’t consider notation has held me back.

  • David Boxwell says:

    We fink vis is right-on, OK? We don’t need no “formal” edgication, roight? We learn from the street how to mike music. Leave us kids alone!

  • herrera says:

    Stevie Wonder. Ray Charles.

    Her point is simply that one can love music, and make music, at the highest level, without musical notation.

    No, Stevie Wonder will never be able to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, but nor will 99.99% of music professors who teach music theory for a living: the limiting factor is not one’s ability to read music.

    I can read a transcription of Georgia, but I’ll never be able to sing it like Ray Charles, nor ever compose it just because I know how to put notes to paper.

    • herrera says:

      She never claims that musical notation is not necessary, just that it is not necessary for most people.

      Here’s an analogy: How many people understand the notations of quantum mechanics (the Feynman diagrams, bra-ket notations, etc)? Of course understanding quantum mechanics is indispensable to modern life, but all a society needs is a very small select group of physics PhDs to understand quantum mechanics for all of society to function.

      So it is that the world doesn’t need everyone to be musicologists, just a handful, one per university is plenty.

  • Ian Pace says:

    I’d strongly urge people to read this response by guitar professor Helen Sanderson:


    And this by music teacher and ABRSM theory examiner Pamela Rose:


    Also this by music director George Bevan:


  • George Porter says:

    The 200 musicians are taking this feeble and inconsequential piece far too seriously.

    Clicking the author’s name at the top of the Guardian piece, reveals that “Charlotte Gill is a regular contributor to The Spectator, The Independent and The Telegraph.” Perhaps she will return there after the shredding she received in the Guardian readers’ comments.

  • Andrew Condon says:

    The skeletal example given at the outset is at least a reminder that the Schubert Fifth Symphony is one music’s greatest glories. I hope we all spotted that immediately!

  • Carole says:

    Music notation is a requirement for ks2 music. Shame she didn’t do research before writing this nonsense. I am a music specialist in a primary school in a disadvantaged area and my pupils all have a rudimentary understanding of notation. However, it is not the focus of every lesson. Neither is the classical canon. We study many varied genres, of which classical is one.

  • Adrienne Fox says:

    We are still ahead of France where one year of theory is required before a child is offered instrumental lessons. If you have read some of their theory books it is a miracle that musical activity exists at all.

    • pooroperaman says:

      But it does, and is in a very strong condition, which tells you that their approach is absolutely the right one. As with all subjects, the more rigorous and academic the teaching, the less elitist education becomes.

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    I think the author wants more music education, not less with concern for those currently left behind. Her potshot at classical music is an unfortunate choice.

    If i could ask for one superpower it would be sight reading. I get by at the piano with a lot of effort and admire those who can sit down and play anything in front of them.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Being able to sight-read doesn’t mean you can sight-read everything. Pianists such as the great and well-loved John Wilson in Manchester are few and far between (John sight-read Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in performance, once). He told me that sight-reading was a science. I wish he’d expounded more on this theory.

      • Ravi Narasimhan says:

        I’ve been in the audience for a couple of violin masterclasses where the pianist played whatever the students handed to her as their turn came up. That’s stuck with me as beyond impressive.

        I started piano lessons a few years after that. My sight reading is better than it used to be but progress is slow due to age and rotten time and practice management. I am always very happy when I can recognize chords, structures, and transitions instead of just a sequence of notes. I’m even happier when I can read ahead a little bit while playing accurately and in rhythm. It doesn’t happen often and it doesn’t last very long but those brief moments are enough to keep me at it.

        I hope that England finds a way to accommodate students who can and can’t grasp the notation.

  • Woodshedder says:

    It’s only for the rich inasmuch as you will be hard pushed to earn a decent living doing it professionally….

  • pooroperaman says:

    Something which has also been said of philosophy, art history, La La Land…

  • Jeremy Filsell says:

    Am struck by her line “many pop, rap and grime artists have never studied music formally” … and think: it shows. How often one hears something creative/interesting in Rock/Pop, doubtless happened upon by accident, exposed because the musician(s) have so few tools with which to develop/manipulate the idea. Precisely, I suspect, BECAUSE they have never been given to study the art and develop an instinctive ability. It’s just like having an untutored clown stumbling about in the White House in charge of government. Oh, wait ….

    • Paul Kelly says:

      Ah! But it’s really interesting just how many of the great British rock musicians from the late 1950s onwards attended art schools and had both a visual education and, I suspect, an education in thinking and experimentation. They include John Lennon, John Cale, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Freddie Mercury, Jarvis Cocker, PJ Harvey and Florence Welch of the Machine. I have a list of 35 and there must be more. It’s telling that some of our most successful and popular musicians emerged from art schools rather than music schools and tragic for our culture and education that most of the art schools have been closed. However the music schools themselves are changing and in my view notation still needs teaching.

      • Jeremy Filsell says:

        Always struck by Genesis (Gabriel, Banks etc. who had a strong classical music education in early years, manifest in concept album writing of some musical distinction), Yes (Rick Wakeman), Rush (2112), The Enid … all of whom displayed an ability to ‘develop’ musical argument. No accident that they had enjoyed some strong ‘training’ in early years. Sting’s musical is brimful with wonderful ideas, yet how often are these ideas extended or manipulated? I also think of Duran Duran’s ‘Save a Prayer’ which contains a beautiful modulatory move (happened upon by chance I assume) but which leads nowhere, stands alone before clumsily returning to the basic chord sequence with which a verse started. A few more tools and … ??

      • John Borstlap says:

        The term ‘great rock musician’ is a contradictio in terminus.

        • Paul Kelly says:

          Sorry John, I must disagree. Rock music is a well established musical genre in which there are levels of achievement. There are great rock musicians just as there are adequate or poor rock musicians. The same goes for jazz, folk, classical music and any other music (or indeed artistic style). If you don’t like or understand a musical genre, just say so. But don’t confuse your musical preferences with critical appraisal. And no, I’m not saying rock music is better or worse than classical music.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    I think too many people are reading the Guardian headline without seeing the word “now”.

  • Eleanor Roth says:

    The Guardian lost the plot long ago. This article is nonsense.

  • Stephen Jones says:

    All art forms have their own language and if we want to express ourselves in them we have to learn that language and its rules. It is ridiculous to equate the acquisition of those necessary tools as a form of elitism. As a teacher and musician of 66 with a lifetime’s experience of working with people, young and old, from all walks of life, it seems to me that what marks out those who can from those who can’t is a passion for their subject, strength of purpose, tenacity and patience. History is littered with great artists from humble backgrounds who give the lie to this utter claptrap.

  • Roberta R. says:

    I think the article in question is itself a proof of a shift in the values system of modern societies. Not many years ago, ignorance was something to be ashamed of, now, one could think that for many, ignorance is not only something they are proud but they demand that because they live in the dark everybody should live in the darkness otherwise it is elitist. The truth is that anybody who is willing to learn music notation will do it, it’s not about money, skin color, nationality or gender it’s about how much you want to learn music to put the effort in understanding it’s theoretical foundations in order to understand, appreaciate and interpret Western Music.
    The fact that someone doesn’t understand music notation and music theory doesn’t mean that is not paramount should you wish to master that art.

  • BillG says:

    It works for evolution and it works for music. . . “I don’t believe it, it’s just a theory.”

    • SteveK says:

      That’s right, Bill! If this music hokum had any evidence that it was true, my music theory class would have been called Music Fact 101!

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    I’m not sure but I believe that it’s already increased to around 500 signatories who include a vast variety of music professionals, some very well known, some less so and it’s still running. I imagine that the egregious author must be quite green about the gills by now…

  • Lara James says:

    Please add Lara James, Tutor of Saxophone, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Senior Associate Teacher, Bristol University.

  • Laura says:

    This is a little bit sad. She is entitled to express her opinion. Hundreds of people signing a letter suggesting she should be silenced doesn’t reflect on the Music community very well. I don’t entirely agree with her but she does make a point. As somebody who worked a lot professionally in choral music in the past it certainly was a deep core issue. I know Graham Vicks mentioned this in his much lauded award speech last year. It is a barrier to participation for a lot of people and one that is very difficult to overcome. In my decade of teaching I came across so many gifted students who had excellent musical instincts but really couldn’t read music. Its a difficult one, but not one to resolve through media witch hunts.

    • Alistair Hinton says:

      It’s sad all right! Yes, she’s entitled to express her opinion but as entitled to be berated for holding it when it is so blatantly unresearched and unsupported by evidence; likewise, the newspaper ought to have known better than to publish it, especially under its headline, be that the author’s or someone else’s.

      There’s no “media witch hunt” going on here; she doesn’t need to be hunted down, as she’s placed herself as a target before the music profession.

      Those who speak and write of people who can’t read music – by which I do not mean don’t read music but who believe themselves to be incapable of mastering conventional music notation or who have been told (by people such as Ms Gill) how difficult it supposedly is to do so – take no account of the fact that not having learnt to read it is quite different to being incapable of learning to read it. With the aid of a downright I mean upright piano, a couple of books, some manuscript paper and some patience, I managed to learn the basics of musical notation and what notes sounded like in less than three weeks; I did this off my own bat at the age of 11 and, believe me, I’m by no means the sharpest knife on the academic block.

      Ms Gill seems wilfully to avoid comparing the art of mastering music notation and basic music theory with that of mastering the alphabet, spelling, basic English grammar and elementary sentence and paragraph construction which is generally accepted as not only necessary but something that most people can do; the only possible reason for this seems to be a desire to create a myth of élitism, esotericism and privilege around the former where in reality it has no place to be.

      She makes a point, to be sure – but not the one that she thinks that she’s making!

    • Ian Pace says:

      Disagreeing with someone and the arguments they put is not at all the same thing as trying to silence them. On the contrary, it is part of proper democratic debate. Gill got a full article, we just got a 250-word letter published, and then only after some really big names joined the signatories.

      If she is allowed to express her opinion, are not also those of us who signed the letter?

      • Alistair Hinton says:

        Of course! – and Ms Gill cannot in any case be “silenced” now that her piece has been published and read, as the tide cannot be turned back. Moreover, these “opinions” were expressed by one person, whereas the respondents thereto number more than 700, most of whom are active in the music profession (which it seems fairly safe to assume that Ms Gill is not). The question as to whether Ms Gill is right and those 700+ are wrong seems hardly necessary to ask, let alone answer!