Media Release: Music teaching must start with ‘babes in arms’, says Sir James MacMillan


LEADING classical composer, Sir James MacMilan, has issued a strong challenge to the approach to music education in countries throughout Europe – including Scotland – claiming, if there is to be a vibrant and creative global future for music and culture, exposure to music-making must start with ‘babes in arms’.

Sir James, the acclaimed composer and conductor, will address around 350 of the world’s leading academics and musicians at the AEC Congress and General Assembly (AEC) to be held in Glasgow later this week (12-14 November) hosted by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The conference, attended by delegates from more than 50 countries, is one of Europe’s most influential forums for debate – where new agendas and strategies for music education are explored by senior academics educators and policy makers.

Some of the key topics to be explored in during the two-day event include improving collaborative practice and enhancing musical quality.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “Music and the performing arts in all their forms can make a transformational contribution to the enrichment of individuals and communities as well as the social, economic and cultural well-being of nations.

“The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is delighted to welcome Europe’s thought leaders in music education here to Glasgow to explore new ideas and set new goals.

“As one of Europe’s most multi-disciplinary higher education centres in the performing arts, we look forward to both sharing and learning through this great international forum.”

Developing early years’ music education is a key area of debate.

At the conference Sir James will argue that the key to securing a vibrant cultural environment throughout the world is thinking strategically about making connections and partnerships across the globe and linking it to music and culture locally.

The composer is convinced that his own early experiences of music-making, while growing up in the Ayrshire former mining town of Cumnock, have made him the musician he is today and without the support of teachers, musicians and governments, today’s youngsters will be denied that opportunity.

He said: “Young people are our future musicians and audience, we must look at what we are doing now and plan for the future and I am talking about the inclusion of the very young, babes in arms, they are our future and how we educate them now will dictate what we have in the future.

“If young people in Ayrshire are exposed to the best music and musicians through the Cumnock Tryst – the acclaimed music festival founded by Sir James in his home-town – they can aspire to be the best and to open themselves to the best.

“Quality and ambition has to be aspired to in Scottish schools, from the earliest stages, in tandem with the widening of access and cultural democracy.”

Sir James added: “The AEC has put its weight behind an initiative proposed by the European Music Council to create a ‘European Agenda for Music,’ which has five key principles – Five Music Rights. We have to make those rights a universal and local reality.

“The Scottish Government’s own Youth Music Initiative has declared that music has to be at the heart of young people’s lives and learning.

“Academic research points to music education from the very early stages of life as having huge benefits for the individual and society. Musicians, governments and conservatoires need to make the very young, the musicians and audiences of the future, our pressing priority.

“Our future students, our future virtuosi, our future orchestras and choirs, our future audiences who can share the joy and delight of the special gift of music are presently babes in arms.

“For the good of our culture and societies we must not delay in embracing them. We need to do that now.”

Notes to editors:

AEC Congress and General Assembly

The AEC works for the advancement of European Higher Music Education and, more generally, of music, the arts and culture in contemporary society and for future generations.

It does this through providing support, information and expert advice to the specialist institutions offering Higher Music Education, through engaging in advocacy and partnership-building at European and international levels.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is a national and international centre of excellence for the performing arts. Building on our roots in 1847 as a national academy of music, we are now one of Europe’s most multi-disciplinary performing arts higher education centres offering specialised teaching across music, drama, dance, film and production as well as encouraging trans-disciplinary learning throughout our innovative curriculum.

Media information from:

Katie Bell

mobile: 07834 785014

direct: 0141 270 8387


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