Colin O'Riordan Trust

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:49 pm on 24th January 2002.

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Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 5:49 pm, 24th January 2002

I congratulate Angus MacKay on securing the debate on the life and work of Dr O'Riordan, who contributed greatly in the service of young people and music. I echo whole-heartedly members' comments on the loss of so dedicated an educator and someone who obviously loved music so much. He was clearly greatly devoted to giving opportunities to young people to experience and participate in the magical world of music. The trust that his family and friends have set up is a fitting memorial and tribute to the man and his work.

Unlike Sarah Boyack and Robin Harper, I did not know Colin O'Riordan personally, but undoubtedly I saw him perform, as I used to go to Edinburgh Youth Orchestra concerts in the 1960s. I was sufficiently inspired to become a member of the EYO in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, Mr O'Riordan had left the orchestra by then, but at least I had seen him perform.

Performing in youth orchestras in my mid and late teens was a wonderful experience, although I was a violinist of limited ability. Like Sarah Boyack, I was often seated at the back of the orchestra; I often seemed to be put near the timpani, which was possibly done to drown out the noise that I made. To rehearse intensively and perform with talented young people and professionals was a terrific opportunity. As Sarah Boyack said, the EYO gave an opportunity to play real music at a much higher standard than would have been possible in a school orchestra.

Music provides useful lessons for later life. Donald Gorrie said that a person cannot be an egotist and play in an orchestra. We learned many things. I remember the violin instructor talking about a difficult piece. He said, "If you cannot keep up with it, just smile, keep your bow going and catch up at the end." I am sure that that advice stood me in good stead in later life.

I was impressed and moved by the enthusiasm and passion of the professional conductors and musicians who worked with young people. They seemed to have a real joy in sharing their talents and experience. I know from what has been said about Dr O'Riordan that he brought that passion and talent to his work with young people. It may not always be apparent that such passion and talent are appreciated. As a not very good musician, I always felt that it was a great honour to work with such people and experience their love of music.

I have been asked to indicate the Executive's commitment to music and the arts. I cannot disagree with Donald Gorrie, Margo MacDonald or Robin Harper that music is a vital part of every child's education and that all young people ought to have the opportunity to experience music. That music does not always have to be western classical music. I came to music through western classical music, which I enjoy, but other forms of music—such as traditional Scottish music and contemporary music—can be equally important in young people's development. All such forms are valuable in helping young people to develop their skills.

An effective music department makes a positive contribution to the overall ethos of a school. Margo MacDonald referred to the importance of culture in educating the whole person, but said that some people regard it as a frill. I do not regard culture as a frill. Culture and arts education are essential and are as important and useful as any other part of the education system.

Practical music making has been proved to be a particularly strong stimulus to motivating pupils and boosting their creativity. Brian Fitzpatrick spoke about how musical education often results in greater achievement in other subjects. Music is valuable in itself and for the many skills that it helps to develop in young people.

Nowadays, most—if not all—pupils in primary school and the first two years of secondary school experience music and music making in timetabled music classes. A range of instruments and singing are involved. However, as Brian Monteith and Sarah Boyack said, there can be problems with the cost and provision of instruments. On Friday, I presented a £5,000 cheque from the Scottish Arts Council to a local group of clarsach—Scots harp—players. I got the opportunity to play one for the first time, which was thrilling. I was amazed that that money can buy perhaps two and a quarter harps. Musical instruments are extremely expensive, which is a problem for authorities.

Reference was made to councils' charging policies. Authorities decide whether to charge for music tuition, but I strongly opposed charging in my time in local government. Music education should be free, as other subjects are, and I hope that authorities can provide that.

The five-to-14 expressive arts curriculum contains advice on the music and arts provision that should be available in classrooms. More broadly, school concerts and Christmas concerts involve communities in schools. That is important, as such concerts bring people from the local community into the school to appreciate and value the contribution that teachers and pupils are making.

The issue does not just centre on what happens in schools; we must also recognise the contribution of the voluntary sector, which has been extremely important to the musical tradition in Scotland. Although Colin O'Riordan did much work as a professional, he also did a hell of a lot above and beyond that as a volunteer and as someone who believed in and gave to the subject.

Members will be aware that the Executive is currently examining the details of a pilot programme for cultural co-ordinators in schools, which I hope will help teachers to maximise the potential contribution of cultural activities such as music to young people's education. Such activities are vital for developing self-confidence and skill. I hope that the details of the pilot programme will be announced in the very near future.

The need to develop excellence among young musicians was mentioned. One of the interesting aspects of the sports and culture debate is the recognition that even people like me who might not be very good at something can get enjoyment simply by taking part in cultural or sporting activity. At the same time, we also need the inspiration that excellence—the importance of which Donald Gorrie mentioned—can give us, which is one of the reasons why the Executive has allocated funding for the excellence fund. Indeed, one of the projects that will receive funding is the City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton High School, which Angus MacKay mentioned and which Dr O'Riordan was instrumental in establishing.

Members will also be aware of the Donald Dewar scholarships. One of the ways in which the Executive wanted to reflect Donald Dewar's contribution to Scottish life and his love of arts and music was to establish a scholarship for fostering excellence in the arts and to offer youngsters from less-privileged backgrounds the opportunity to develop their talents. Twenty students will initially benefit from the scholarships; four will be funded with each of the four national arts companies for the performing arts and four will be funded in the visual arts with the Scottish Arts Council. We are currently discussing how the scholarships will operate.

I join members in lamenting the great loss of Dr O'Riordan to music education in Edinburgh and Scotland and in celebrating the contribution that people like him make to our country's cultural life and the development of our children. I congratulate Dr O'Riordan's family and friends on their vision in establishing the trust. I wish them well and hope that the trust and other initiatives will carry forward his passion for music and education in the years to come.

Meeting closed at 17:58.