Colin O'Riordan Trust

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:30 pm on 24th January 2002.

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Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour 5:30 pm, 24th January 2002

My friend Angus MacKay does well to secure the debate.

I did not know Dr O'Riordan, but from what has been said I wish I had known him. In supporting the motion, I want to say something about the role that access to music can have in forming citizens and widening opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged youngsters.

I have to declare an interest. I grew up in Priesthill on the south side of Glasgow. It is one of the most deprived parts of Glasgow; sufficiently deprived that we considered the bit of Pollok that was inhabited by the likes of Tommy Sheridan a bit posh. I attended what was then called Bellarmine Secondary and is now called St Paul's. I do not think that the change in name reflects a demotion of the sainted Cardinal Bellarmine; a man you would not have crossed—ask Galileo.

I had the great fortune to be at that school when the music department was under the guidance of Miss Winifred Deans—Winnie Deans—the creator of the Bellarmine summer school and youth orchestra. Like Dr O'Riordan, Winnie Deans was a singular individual and an extraordinary Scot. She shared his belief in the liberating effect of music and spent much of her time and energies instilling in youngsters a love and appreciation of music. She shared the belief that every youngster can benefit from the opportunity to play an instrument and to have an understanding of musical traditions and forms.

As a result of the considerable volume of research in the United States and Switzerland, we know that there are direct connections between exposure to music at an early age and intellectual development and educational achievement across the subject range. There seems to be something about music that stimulates other intellectual competences. That was played out in my school by the above average rate of admission to university that those who took part in music courses achieved.

A welcome curricular development in recent years—in Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom—has been the introduction of space in the timetable not just for musical performance, but for listening to and appraising music. Music is a uniquely educational tool. I cannot think of another discipline that provides the time and space for the analysis of a complex and abstract subject.

I benefited from the one-to-one attention that music tuition provides. It is perhaps the only time we replicate a parent-child relationship in the school environment. As it turned out, my musical skills were limited. That might have had something to do with comparing myself with fellow pupils such as Willie Conway, who went on to the European Youth Orchestra and even greater heights; with Gerry Docherty, who is now in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; and with that whole generation of contemporary artists who graduated from schools on Glasgow's south side such as Bellarmine Secondary School and Holyrood Secondary School.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that I had. I tried the violin and then the trumpet. I was not patient enough to develop a lip, although that has not held me back since. I struggled, literally, with the E-flat bass, which at that time weighed more than me—I know that that is hard to believe. I ended up with the cello. Although I would never earn a living playing it, it was a transforming instrument in my life.

What heart, what soul could listen to Rachmaninov's "Vespers"—which I was introduced to by Winnie Deans at the age of 13—and not be touched by the transcendent and put to thinking about our relationships with each other, our interconnectedness and our shared experiences as human beings. I cannot think of a more useful opportunity for my children. I want that opportunity for the children in my constituency and for children across my country.

In preparation for the debate, I spoke to my friend, James MacMillan, who hails from Cumnock. The keys to his growth as a musician and his journey to his place as one of our foremost modern composers were the stimulus that was given by his working-class parents and his good fortune in meeting music teachers who captured and nurtured his musical interests and talents.

They were good men and women, like Colin O'Riordan and Winnie Deans, who opened those closed doors of opportunity and helped to ensure that those opportunities were offered to the many, and not just the few. God will bless them and will look kindly on them, but we should thank them. I am honoured to have joined Angus MacKay in the debate.