Young Musicians

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 18 June 2024.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour

(Translated)

3. What plans does the Welsh Government have to support the development of young musicians? OQ61295

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 2:02, 18 June 2024

Thank you. The national music service is enabling every child and young person, from the age of three to 16, to have the opportunity to benefit from opportunities in music-making activities, both in schools and in the wider community.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour

(Translated)

Thank you for the response.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour

I've been approached by parents in Cardiff North, and as a result recently visited the junior conservatoire at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where everyone is absolutely devastated and upset about the uncertainty about its future. The school caters for 300 young people to attend on a weekend. The vast majority of them get bursaries to come, based on household income. It offers singing and movement, jazz specialism, group playing, chamber music, Indian music, theory and choir—just to name but a few. And as well as the loss of these opportunities, were it to close, there's a great source of anxiety about the fantastic instruments they've got there—an individual being worth thousands of pounds—which are given to the young people to use for a very small maintenance fee. So, what opportunities would young people have to use those sorts of instruments if this did not continue? This is a unique institution, and so what could the Welsh Government do to prevent this service from closing?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 2:03, 18 June 2024

I should say that I myself benefited from having opportunities to play a musical instrument when I was younger myself. I played the violin and the trumpet, with varying degrees of proficiency. But I recognise that, actually, talent is relatively evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. That's why we introduced the national music service. And the work that the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama do helps to provide an additional platform for young people.

The consultation they have closes on 20 June, and then there will be a further three-week period to consider responses to that. I'm interested in the college considering the impact of the choices it could make. We're not in a position to direct them on funding—it's a choice they've made—but the Cabinet Secretary for Education has offered to meet the principal and has asked to do so. I expect the principal to directly engage with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, to have a conversation with us about what it is possible to do, because I want to see our cultural assets protected and taken forwards.

We're in a period of time now where, in a few weeks, there could be a change at a UK level with a different opportunity to look to a future, and the ability, I hope, to plan over more than one year. Just as we ask other people not to make irreversible choices, I'd ask the college to think again about the choice they may be considering making, to have the meeting that's been offered with the Cabinet Secretary for Education to consider how they can continue to extend the range of opportunities to all children and young people across Wales who have talent and the ability to benefit from a musical education and opportunity within their lives.

Photo of Russell George Russell George Conservative 2:05, 18 June 2024

The leader of the opposition was just telling me he can also play the trumpet, First Minister, so I look forward to a competition between the two of you on who can play the trumpet the loudest. [Laughter.]

But on a serious note, this is a very important question on the order paper today and last month at the Urdd building across the road, some Members here attended the event that celebrates the work of the national music service. I was very pleased to hear representatives from Powys and young people from Montgomeryshire taking part in that event as well. But when I was at the Eisteddfod in Meifod last month, I spoke to, also, people at the Montgomeryshire Youth Music stand, volunteers that come together to encourage young people to come together every Friday at Welshpool High School, free of charge, to play their instruments together. So, with that in mind, First Minister, I was also aware that the UK Government shared prosperity funding provided to 10 organisations a total of £675,000 to support the arts and creative industries across the county of Powys.

So, First Minister, I would ask what further work can you do and the Welsh Government do, particularly at grass-roots level, to support and encourage young people to see being a musician as a positive life opportunity for them? What can you do in conjunction with schemes supported by the shared prosperity fund to encourage more of that, particularly in rural areas?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 2:06, 18 June 2024

I too was at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Meifod. It was really interesting to see that the role of musical performance for a range of young people and what they got from it wasn’t just the performance, it was all of the social side of it and the skills that go with it.

I’m interested in what we can do with the music service and the way we’ve directed them to extend opportunities. That’s why the First Experiences programme is so important, and it’s reached seven in 10 primary schools in Wales to make it genuinely accessible to people across the country. So, I’m interested in those opportunities in rural Wales and, indeed, urban Wales, and how we have stable funding sources to build on the work we’ve started. That’s the challenge, because, unfortunately, the shared prosperity fund, the way it’s been developed and organised, isn’t a stable source for the future, and, actually, the way that funding was previously used was for big significant strategic priorities. I want to see a proper way to fund creative industries and music and culture as part of that in the future. That isn’t what we’ve been able to have, and that is a consequence of the reality of what has happened to our budget in a decade and more. Stability and a long-term plan for the future will, I believe, provide more opportunities for children and young people in his constituency and further beyond.

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour 2:08, 18 June 2024

I very much welcome, obviously, the national music service investment, but it was never set up for conservatoire-style study. The serious dismantling and erosion of Wales’s finest economic export, the Welsh National Opera, from its joint arts council funding bodies, will ruin its capacity to perform and deliver first-class world-beating schools outreach. And just one example, First Minister, is the Cradle Choir—an innovative schoolchildren intergenerational programme; one amongst many, many others—that the Welsh National Opera provides for Wales’s young musicians. Combined with the very shocking announcement of the realistic closure next month of Wales’s only conservatoire junior department, the pipeline of talent to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, what is the overarching strategy in place for developing the talent of our Welsh youth and the future culture of Wales?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour

Well, I recognise the point the Member makes, and she has consistently raised the point, not just in this Chamber, but outside it with myself and the Cabinet Secretary for culture, and I would expect her to carry on doing so, because there is a real issue about what we’re able to do with the funding challenges we have. It’s why I made clear that I would expect the principal of the college to meet with the Cabinet Secretary for Education to understand what the longer term impact is, what their proposals are, and how they meet some of their own mission for ensuring proper access to music for a range of people who are from less privileged backgrounds as part of the work that they’re currently undertaking.

And I recognise the broader piece around choices made not just by the funding council here in Wales, the arts council, but actually about the funding choice that had an even bigger impact in England. That’s why we need a different relationship about the value of what the WNO and others do. I recognise the enormous soft power that the WNO has, as well as the direct economic benefits it produces as well. So, I'm interested in how what I recognise as one of our finest cultural assets continues. That's a conversation we want to carry on having, together with what I hope will be a different meaning, to achieve that aim in a few weeks' time and beyond.