Why does music education never nominate the right people for MBEs?

Posted: July 5, 2012 in Miscellaneous
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A little bit of a subjective blog entry here – just heard that my old head of music service – Peter Dunkley in Northamptonshire – is retiring. Peter is most respected in the business, and Northants music service is one of the very best – the National Plan for Music recognised this by devoting an entire appendix to its excellent structure of youth ensembles.

But Peter will most probably get passed over for an MBE/OBE because the music education sector is not good at nominating the right people for these honours. I have nothing against Gareth Malone OBE, who has certainly done a lot of good work – but he has done it with the heft of TV behind him, an advantage that Peter Dunkley and others have never had. (Also, Malone was nominated for his award by the BBC! Self-promoting or what?)

Gareth Malone aside, if you look at the music education people who typically receive honours, you’ll see that they tend to be ‘figureheads’ – people who have led a successful initiative or who have campaigned for change. In other words, the honours seem to be going to people on the margins – those who are plugging gaps or drawing attention to perceived problems. The honours are not going to the people who actually keep music education going for the majority of children, day in day out.

There is a wider point here. Do these honours perhaps reflect a music education culture that is gravitating towards the margins? Are we are heading for an end point where a multitude of creative initiatives will flourish at the margins while the kids in the middle who just want a quality music education will gradually find their cause becoming less and less trendy?

  1. You’re quite right. Celebrity honours like those to people like Malone are a disgrace in my view. They should mark a lifetime’s work not a TV series. When asked, repeatedly by various people, to help fight the proposed closure of the UEA’s School of Music (his own university!!!), he refused point blank to get involved. No doubt he is a charismatic figure, but a sustained service to music education – I don’t think so.

    I know that David Price has got an OBE for services for music education; as has Dick Hallam (I think). Both of those awards seem richly deserved in my view. I don’t know about Peter and his work, but I suspect that there will be many people retiring from LA music provision in the years to come. I suppose the problem is deciding who should or should not get an award like this.

  2. Hi Jonathan – it is indeed hard to decide who should get an award, but I think all of us in music education could do more to make sure appropriate people are being nominated. A good start would be for the FMS, NAME, ISM, MMA, MU etc to make sure they are making compelling nominations each year. Music Teacher will try to do the same – or at least we’ll try to encourage others. I have just emailed the FMS about Peter!

  3. Many thanks for this, Chris

    This is the article I have been meaning to write for some time – and you have made a much better job of it than I could have done!

    Identifying the people who should be nominated is not that difficult. We know who many of the heroes are. What we probably need to do is to make sure that all organisations involved in music education (and this includes Hubs) are aware of the nomination process and make it a part of what we do. Perhaps you should start the ball rolling with an article in MT? That way we can make sure that the Peter Dunkleys out there get the proper recognition they deserve.

    One final point. Great to hear of the launch of Music Teachers Awards at the forthcoming Expo. This could be an important step in this direction….

  4. Thanks David – you’re quite right – we are launching our own Music Teacher Awards, the results of which will be announced at Music Education Expo 2013 (www.musiceducationexpo.co.uk). My post was about the complete randomness of music education honours, but I should have mentioned the Music Teacher Awards too, because the precise reason we have set them up is to honour the good things/people that we all know about but that often get overlooked. It won’t be a tortuous nomination process – anyone can check out the categories on the website and email music.teacher@rhinegold.co.uk with their nominations. The panel will make its own nominations too, and we’ll simply sit round, chat and decide.

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