Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Music and Saint Cecilia

click photo to enlarge
Hands up if you learned to play the recorder at school! There's a fair chance that virtually every British reader will answer yes. And it's this that accounts for it being named the most reviled instrument by school children (and adults)! The poor old recorder is seen by them as "not a real instrument" and "just for children". The pain of trying to learn the fundamentals of music through the recorder, and the failure that it so often engenders, has clearly left its mark.

When the same children were asked which instrument they would most like to learn the boys nominated the drums closely followed by the guitar (no surprises there then!), and the girls named the piano and the flute. Whether their parents were as enthusiastic about these choices is not recorded! However, it's a fact that in Britain curricular pressures have resulted, overall, in the downgrading of music's place in schools. Concerted efforts are being made to increase the number of pupils learning instruments, and the decline has been reversed, but many feel that this has been at the expense of depth, and that what is learned will not be sustained in later life. And that's a real shame. The pleasure and the intellectual stimulation that playing an instrument can bring is life-enhancing, and is something that an individual and a society should value. In the past musicians would pray to Saint Cecilia, their patron saint, for inspiration and to help their music. Today a little political agitation is necessary to ensure that the Gradgrinds in charge of our education system recognise the true value of music's place in the curriculum.

The stained glass above depicts Saint Cecilia, and is in the Roman Catholic church at Westby, Lancashire. This building, designed by E. W. Pugin, son of the co-designer of the Houses of Parliament, A.W.N. Pugin, is unusual in having rose windows down each side of the nave in place of the more common square-headed or pointed windows. This depiction of the saint playing an organ is the best of the series, and particularly noteworthy are the deep green/blue of her dress, and the roses in the "petals" of the window.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen