Last week heralded two big musical events for us. Firstly, ‘Heal You’, our first ever single was released by Nonclassical to lovely reviews and played on Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’. Listen to the full interview here (Sarah’s on at about 37mins in). Look out for a second single and album release late Spring.
Secondly, we premiered ‘The Girls Who Wished to Marry Stars’, a new work by Luke Styles for juice and contemporary jazz group, Tangent, at LICA, an amazing arts centre at the University of Lancaster. This was the musical premiere, with three dancers being added to the mix for our performances at Southbank and Glasgow in July and August. It tells the Native American story of three young girls who want to get hitched so badly that they fly up into the sky and marry some stars. Unfortunately, the stars don’t seem to match their high expectations and, getting rapidly bored, they gaze longingly down to earth to try and ensnare some new and very different husbands, namely a bear, a snake and a wolverine.
The work is part of a larger project entitled ‘New Music Biennial’ organised by the PRSF supporting 20 new commissions to celebrate the arrival of the Commonwealth Games to the UK. During times of austerity, programmes such as this are vital to our economy, as proven last year by a report that said the Arts is worth more than £850m to the UK (read it in full here). Now, my usual juice blogs are normally full of light-hearted revelry…and this one will be no different in some respects! However, I feel so passionately about the following topic that I had to commit fingers to keypad.
Now, being performed simultaneously in the theatre next door, that very same evening, was ‘The Vagina Monologues’, an annual student event run to raise money to end violence against women and girls. In its twelfth year, a fantastic achievement, we discovered that it very nearly didn’t start at all, the University initially saying that the word ‘vagina’ had no place being displayed anywhere in public on campus or in university buildings. My reaction to hearing this was to make me want to run around screaming the word ‘vagina’ relentlessly (hmmm…maybe I can get it into a juice piece?!). Why would any academic institution be so ridiculous? And how brilliant is it that female students fought against that stupid decision and can now go about happily selling ‘chocolate vagina lollipops’?
However, what is even more ludicrous is that Lancaster University is shutting its Music Department at the end of this year. The ‘management’ had this to say:
“Lancaster recognises the importance of music as a discipline to draw on within the wider arts, and is investing in the arts while retaining disciplinary expertise in music. While there will not be a single major degree in music, there will still be teaching in the broad area of music available across arts degrees at Lancaster. A wealth of UK and international artists of the highest calibre come to Lancaster every year in public programmes of professional theatre, dance, exhibitions and concerts. This will continue in the future.”
Lancaster is not unusual in making this decision. UEA also shut their utterly brilliant Music Department not that long ago, to outcry from musicians all around the country. However, there are many academic institutions bucking the trend, investing and expanding their departments, a good example being the University of Kent .
I will testify that LICA’s Great Hall is a brilliant venue, the front of house team fantastically well-organised and the sound technicians excellent. The public audience were very appreciative…but where were the students? The support that the university management claim they give to the arts centre, failed to materialize. The fact that they had some of the UK’s foremost young artists presenting classical, jazz and contemporary music in their Great Hall should have been something that they celebrated in their University and involved students in heavily. Where is the joy in not doing so?
Lancaster University needs to help its students develop their appreciation of the beauty in the world around them by enabling them to attend music events which inspire them, regardless of their field of study. As many studies have proven, music improves learning, concentration – in short, it makes you brainier! Our own government has even supported this notion, saying:
“Arts and culture strengthen communities, bringing people together and removing social barriers. Involving young people in the arts increases their academic performance, encourages creativity, and supports talent.”
Now, I see the irony in a government stating its support for subjects that it also undermines with funding cuts but it’s even more ironic that UK University administrators see Music departments as dead weight when in fact investing in them would raise not only the University profile but improve academic results.
I feel proud of our achievements in commissioning a great new piece and forming a lasting partnership with a very different ensemble. It breaks my heart to think that students will no longer be able to pursue a musical career by studying at Lancaster when our studies at the University of York formed such a solid foundation for our own.