Reviews of A Musical Nation

  • Posted on 19 December 2004 at 2:36pm
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Below are reproduced the many reviews of A Musical Nation – written and presented by Howard for ITV’s South Bank Show, and broadcast in December 2004:

Radio Times 18-31 December 2004 TODAY’S CHOICES: ARTS – David Butcher
Prepare for some good news. In 1998 Simon Rattle made a gloomy film about the decline of music education in Britain. Back then, local authorities spent just £30 million on music provision, down from £100 million in 1990. The film chimed with a sense of crisis: struggling symphony orchestras seemed to reflect a fine tradition that was being pushed to the sidelines.

But we can all take heart, because this update by Howard Goodall paints a much cheerier picture. The funding has largely been restored and there’s a new energy abroad in music education. You only have to listen to the 78-piece orchestra of Egglescliffe School in Teesside to feel optimistic. Or the school’s classy soul band. Or its superb folk group. Fifty thousand pupils take music GCSE every year and most of them will happily straddle musical genres, with little of the pigeonholing of the past. Not only is the picture Goodall paints very encouraging but throughout the film there are also terrific performances to enjoy.

Time Out London TV Guide,Dec 15th-22nd 2004, Pick of the Day:
In 1998 a TV documentary presented by conductor Sir Simon Rattle entitled ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ dished out loads of statistics detailing the imminent death of music in schools and the lack of funding for music departments across the country. Tonight’s South Bank Show is composer Howard Goodall’s effort to revisit Rattle’s film and see if the predicted doom has come to pass. Thankfully, it hasn’t. This is an uplifting hour, with Goodall travelling far and wide to examine specific initiatives and discovering that things are not all wailing recorders and hanging out at the back of the class with a bent triangle. This should be compulsory viewing for parents who worry about the provision of music lessons in state schools.

Now that’s what I call music: Mark Lawson.Monday December 13, 2004 The Guardian
Rowan Atkinson’s stage-show in the late 80s was not his most successful venture – suffering a notably vicious New York Times notice – but, paradoxically, it turns out to have been a formidable academy for talent. It’s like discovering that the Titanic disaster created three champion Olympic swimmers.

The co-writer, Richard Curtis, is nowBritain’s most recognisable scriptwriter; the acting sidekick, Angus Deayton, graduated to become one of television’s highest-paid presenters; and now the composer for the show, Howard Goodall, has established himself as the David Attenborough of classical music.

Goodall claims two hours of television this weekend across two channels for his personable but rigorous notes on music: on Saturday, he concludes his Channel 4 series Howard Goodall’s Twentieth Century Greats with an essay on Leonard Bernstein and, the following night, hosts an authored documentary for The South Bank Show on music teaching in schools.

The SBS project is a response to a television film made six years ago in which Sir Simon Rattle lamented the silencing of music teaching in British schools. Beginning – inevitably but sweetly – with the Purcell School Orchestra playing Lloyd Webber’s Variations On a Theme of Paganini (also known as Herald to Melvyn), Goodall offers his own variations on Rattle’s 1998 conclusions.

The shift in tone is so great that it’s as if a piece by Schoenberg has been transposed into Puccini: where Rattle was rattled, Goodall can find only good. He stands in a hard hat on building sites where new musical schools are being built, while banners dash across the screen revealing that £60m a year of new government money has gone into music teaching or that six times as many teachers are in training. In classrooms across the nation, Goodall finds bright-eyed children tackling Shostakovich or knocking out their own string quartets.

After about half an hour of this, there were horns sounding loudly in my head. While it is hard to argue that music teaching in schools has improved, the political dissonance of Rattle’s film seemed to have been entirely replaced by New Labour harmony. This is worrying – especially as the editor of the South Bank Show is Lord Bragg, a Labour peer – but, after the overture of blowing trumpets for Blairism, the film gets much tougher.

Goodall raises the possibility that the new state cash for music teaching is more interested in brass-bands playing Hollywood theme tunes than teaching classical tradition. There are other, even harder points he could have explored – such as parents in some state schools being pressured to buy expensive instruments from the school’s commercial partner – but this is a typically passionate and informative film in which the presenter demonstrates his eye for a quirky statistic: such as the fact that there are 44 dedicated choir schools in Britain, 43 more than in Italy.

But the problem is that the South Bank Show documentary leaves you thinking that the solution to music education in Britain is a mass cloning programme so that every child can have Howard Goodall as a personal tutor.

His Channel 4 series Twentieth Century Greats is an even more impressive piece of intelligent storytelling than his previous four series for 4: Organ Works, Choir Works, Big Bangs and Great Dates.

19.12.04 – Evening Standard – Metro Life Television – Pick of the Day – Pete Clark
Howard Goodall has appeared from nowhere – at least as far as this writer is concerned – to become, in a short space of time, the great music man of our times. First, there was his series on 20th Century Greats, in which he charmingly and effortlessly explained the genius of the greatest songwriters of the last century. Never one to miss a cultural trick, Melvyn “The Braggster” Bragg now devotes a South Bank Show to this great populariser. A few years ago, Simon Rattle delivered a gloomy verdict on the state of the nation’s musical health. In short, finance for music in schools had been dramatically reduced, to the point where that education was effectively drying up. Goodall conducts his own examination and finds the body to be in surprisingly rude health, reports of its corpse-like status having been greatly exaggerated. In this gloomy world, a reason to be cheerful.

Evening Standard 17.12.04 Sunday Choice The South Bank Show
Following his superb series about 20th century musical greats on Channel 4 (the last episode is on Saturday at 7.20 pm, see page 53), surely the ranks of Howard Goodall Fan Club members must be swelling like the Thames at Old Windsor every winter. Unless, of course, you missed his programmes because 7.20 pm on a Saturday is picking-up-the-takeaway time. Shame. The choral-epics-to-TV-theme-tunes composer’s brainy yet non-condescending style allowed him to impart his musical knowledge without giving rise to “we’re being lectured, let’s change channel” syndrome. Of course, the scheduling of Goodall’s film for the South Bank Show probably won’t help him win many new viewers either; occupying as it does the tail end of ITV1’s Sunday-night schedule. Another shame, because it is a positive, celebratory look at the status of musical education inBritain’s schools.

Back in 1998, Sir Simon Rattle (genius conductor, complete stranger to Frizz-Ease) made a programme for Channel 4 lamenting the state of musical education inBritain. Goodall’s film aims to show that, six years later, music in schools is in fact experiencing a huge revival. And we’re talking real schools here; this is not a hour’s worth of public-school types playing the harpsichord. Goodall dashes aroundBritainin order to show how competent and diverse musical education is right now. At Egglescliffe School in Stockton-on-Tees, for example, there is an orchestra, a folk band and a soul band, and the teenagers involved speak with passion about their music. One shaven-headed lad flies in the face of the sterotype suggested by his haircut with a stunning turn on the xylophone. At the other end of the age spectrum, the kids at Ilderton Primary School in Bermondsey are learning to sing thanks to interactive games staged by a specialist who also teaches the staff about pitch and notes. This is an upbeat film, but undoubtedly for every brilliant band or orchestra showcased here, there’ll be mums and dads at home yelling: “That’s all very well, but my Conor/Megan/other fashionably named children, can’t get piano lessons, and their school has no money at all”.

Perhaps Goodall’s documentary will serve as inspiration/a kick up the bottom for certain local education authorities so that more kids can experience similar musical opportunities.

The Sunday Telegraph 19.12.04 Television Choice – Arts – CM The South Bank Show
Composer Howard Goodall, whose recent Twentieth Century Greats series on C4 was such a delight, is also passionate about music education. Here, he assesses how certain schools (which featured in Simon Rattle’s 1998 programme) have fared after millions of pounds of government and EC funding. Goodall finds virtuoso xylophone players, primary school rappers and thousands of motivated musical pupils without a baseball cap in sight.

The Independent on Sunday 19.12.04 CHOICE * The South Bank Show
In 1998 Simon Rattle made a depressing documentary about the decline of music education in Britain’s schools, which had been hit by massive cuts in funding. Now Howard Goodall revisits the same territory with a much brighter and cheering report. In the past few years, music in schools has been getting stronger and better funded, as Goodall discovers on his tour around them.

Mail on Sunday; Night & Day TV 19.12.04 MUST SEE The South Bank Show: Howard Goodall’s Musical Nation
In 1998, Simon Rattle made a film claiming musical education was in dire straits, thanks to government spending cuts. Howard Goodall is far cheerier, showing funding has been largely restored, and with impressive results. At the start it feels like a paean to New Labour, as he selects the cream of non-selective schools for praise, but gradually it becomes a joyful celebration of genuine young musical talent and a real antidote to The X Factor and Pop Idol. ****

Sunday Times Culture CHOICE The South Bank Show Pick of the Day Howard Goodall’s Musical Nation. Martin James
The composer visits schools where music education is undergoing a revival (see critics’ choice). Following his excellent Channel 4 series on the popular-music greats of the 20th century, the composer and broadcaster Howard Goodall presents the results of a personal survey of the state of musical education in Britain. And his film, beginning wittily with a school orchestra’s interpretation of the SBS theme tune, strikes a number of very positive notes. Sir Simon Rattle conducted a similar exercise in a 1998 feature called Don’t Stop the Music, but his conclusions were gloomier, virtually predicting that within a couple of years one triangle would be shared between several schools, and no teacher would be available who knew how to play it. Six years on, Goodall’s impressive statistics, the testimonies of teachers and pupils and vibrant scholastic performances combine to show a turnaround in attitudes and funding. The science labs of Britain’s schools may be a bit quiet, but the music rooms are booming.

The Saturday Times:18.12.04, The Eye TV Choice The South Bank Show
Sir Simon Rattle made a programme six years ago about the dire state of music education in Britain. In the eight years prior to his programme, spending by local education authorities on music teaching had fallen from £100 million in 1990 to £30 million in 1998 That situation, says composer Howard Goodall, has now been reversed. There are nine state-funded music academies; five junior conservatories; 44 dedicated choir schools, 2000 young orchestras and an imaginative range of initiatives – starting at primary school – that teach a wide variety of musical styles. We’ve never had it so good.

Observer TV 19.12.04 PICK OF THE DAY The South Bank Show
Composer Howard Goodall begins this thought-provoking, topical edition of the SBS by describing how in the late 1990’s he was deeply affected by a documentary made by Sir Simon Rattle, which highlighted the deepening crisis of music education in Britain’s schools. He goes on to show that music education in this country is far from being in terminal decline, as some are predicting, but that music in schools is undergoing a revival. “I believe that Britainis one of the most musically active, diverse and skilled communities anywhere in the world,” he says.