Aberdeen should invest as much as it can in young musicians

It’s brilliant to see Aberdeen City Council approve a new music centre, but the funding shouldn’t stop there, writes Rebecca Buchan.

If I had to sum up my childhood in a word, “music” would be it.

From a very early age, my parents noticed I liked a beat and could carry a tune. So, at seven, they decided to buy me an old baby grand piano.

Sounds fancy, I know. However, truth be told, the piano had seen better days. But it did the job.

Just a short while later, I realised I had caught the musical bug. When the opportunity arose to play the violin at school, I was first in line.

I loved music. I still do. But, the best thing for me was the opportunities playing an instrument presented. My social life had never been so good, and I was fortunate enough that it allowed me to travel the world.

“Wow,” I can hear you say. You must think I was pretty good. In truth, I was decent enough, but there were a lot of people who were much better than me. But that didn’t matter. I was lucky. And, when we played together, it felt like we made magic.

I made lifelong friends while playing in orchestras

The musical education system when I was a child was outstanding – which is why it has been so hard to watch participant numbers fall and music centres disappear.

That was, until last week, when Aberdeen City Council’s education and children’s services committee agreed to approve a new music centre in the city.

It was something which had fallen through the cracks since the coronavirus pandemic forced any music ensembles to shut down, to the detriment of the upbringing of aspiring young musicians out there.

Rebecca (second from left) rehearsing for a Peterhead Academy concert as part of a string quartet.

Orchestra started pretty early on for me, I think from around primary five. Saturday mornings were spent catching a bus from Peterhead town centre, with dozens of children from other local primary schools.

We’d make our way to Fraserburgh Academy, where we would come together with kids from all across Aberdeenshire.

It was there I met some lifelong friends, forming bonds with people who truly shared similar interests, who I learned so much from, and who I still know to this day.

I learned to truly work as part of a team

My parents paid a small contribution to the music centres, and I did benefit from private lessons. However, bursaries and free tuition existed for those who needed it.

The experience I gained by attending three different orchestras a week set me up for applying to join the National Youth String Orchestra of Scotland

As I became more proficient, I was able to start attending orchestra on Friday nights, with mainly older children from secondary schools. It was there I learned to appreciate what it is like to truly work as part of a team.

This taught me how to be focused, how to be ambitious (there was always that first desk position to play for), how to be patient, how to listen, and to appreciate the talent of others. Something, I would argue, most young people would benefit from.

Students learn valuable skills at music centres. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

The experience I gained by attending three different orchestras a week set me up for applying to join the National Youth String Orchestra of Scotland.

The music scene across Scotland is like a family. In a way, it’s almost like the media scene. You think it’s vast, but, when you come to examine it closely, you see it’s really the same pool of like-minded people, involved across the board.

Well done to Aberdeen City Council for supporting music and young people

All the music groups I was part of opened so many doors. Tours of France, Germany and Dublin were all completed before I left secondary school. I played at the Edinburgh Festival, at Disneyland Paris and, possibly most importantly, Aberdeen’s Music Hall.

It also made me more versatile. When one orchestra I was part of was short of viola players, my teacher dug one out of his cupboard, told me to go and learn how to read alto clef, and said: “Bring this with you next week, instead of your violin.”

I have had many a critical thing to say over recent weeks about Aberdeen City Council and its priorities for our city centre. However, recognition of music centres and their significance to talented young people has to be congratulated.

Performing at Aberdeen’s Music Hall was a highlight for Rebecca. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

I would be over the moon if, at its budget meeting in March, the council agrees to put an extra £20,000 behind music tuition. It is, of course, great that the programme can go ahead as is, but the extra funds would not only allow beginners to experience the magic of playing as part of an ensemble – they would also help already experienced musicians to thrive.

I have been guilty of allowing my music skills to slip over time. Following university, I have rarely taken my instruments out of their cases. But writing this has inspired me to change my ways.

Rebecca Buchan is City and Shire Team Leader for The Press & Journal and Evening Express

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