Musicians young and old united over petition objecting to tuition charges

Gussie Angus accepts the petition from legendary fiddler Aly Bain.

A petition with over 6,000 signatures opposing charging for music tuition in schools was handed over to SIC services committee chairman Gussie Angus at Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday morning in a final bid to stop the proposals going ahead.

The petition included a paper version, comprising over 1,444 signatures, an online petition of 1,412 and the Facebook group with its 3,204 members. It was handed over by Maggie Adamson and Aly Bain with a group of young musicians looking on.Mr Bain, who is probably Shetland’s best known fiddler, said he was “shocked and disappointed” to learn of the council’s proposal to begin charging for music lessons, and said that in principle, music should not be restricted to those who can afford it.

He said: “Shetland is known everywhere around the world for its fiddle music as it is for its knitwear and I’m just very surprised that they’re proposing to come with tuition fees.

“I think especially this year, of Tammy’s 100th year, he would have been very unhappy about that, in fact he would have been here, all of him! I hope they reconsider it because education should be free for everybody, regardless of your income.

“My dad bought me my first fiddle and it was a week’s wages for him and that was a huge sacrifice in those days. I just went to Tammy for lessons and he never charged me, but I just think it depends on your income, if you’ve got two or three bairns going to fiddle lessons and you don’t have a big income then I think that shouldn’t be a disadvantage.

“I think it’s just the principle that something like that should be free for all the bairns and that money shouldn’t some into it.”

The petitions were organised entirely by young musicians, including fiddlers Lois Nicol and Ross Couper, who organised it after hearing of the council’s decision to introduce charging for music tuition in February.

Councillor Rick Nickerson, who is opposing the charges, said he hoped that message that young people do not want the charges would get across to the SIC. He also has doubts that the council will make the savings it is proposing it will.

The council four months ago voted 11-9 to bring in a £160-a-year charge for each pupil, with an exemption for some families on low income. The fee is supposed to raise £130,000 a year to plug a gap of £1.2 million in this year’s schools budget.

Mr Nickerson said: “In my view 6,000 signatures – and we recognise there’s some duplications in there – is more than the opposition to the Viking Energy petition.

“I’m going to move an amendment that we defer for six months, that we delegate authority to Helen Budge, the head of schools, to put together a small review panel that would include somebody from Hayfield, somebody from the music service, myself and Bill Manson and we’ll see if we can identify efficiency savings which at least meet the objective, and report back to the service committee in November. The charges decision has to be over turned by the full council.

“I believe that there are discussions with staff and other people that there are other ways of doing this rather than a regressive charging system, or a ‘tax on talent’ as I call it.”

Fiddle player Kirsten Hendry was among the group of youngsters who organised and handed over the petition on Wednesday.

She said that charging for music lessons would have had an impact on her own musical career and would likely have a detrimental impact on the amount of youngsters taking up musical instruments in the future.

She said: “I think it probably would have done. Maybe if we been playing for a few years first then had to pay I’d have carried on, but I think it’ll affect bairns starting now.”

Also there to support the petition was Shetland Folk Festival committee member Davie Henderson. He said: “In the big picture it’s just a small amount of money and the tradition we have here of musicians and the professionals we have now it all comes through [education].

“We’re celebrating Dr Tom Anderson at the Hamefarin and he was the man that started all this and it’s ironic that that the same year we’re celebrating how wonderful that was that they’re [proposing to] take away free tuition.”


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