DUMBING DOWN – world predicted to end soon… (First published on Friday, 7 August 2009)

Quotation of the day: “Render unto them a recompense, O Lord, according to the work of their hands” Lamentations 3. 67


Quite soon now we shall have the annual round of breast beating, lamentations about “falling standards” and “dumbing down” which accompany the release of the GCSE and A Level results.

The poor old teenagers must feel like giving up in despair. They go through all that work – and boredom – learning apparently meaningless knowledge, only at the end of it all to be put down and told that their results are pretty feeble or worthless.

The trouble is that they don’t know how to answer back. But I do. For years I have felt that, having achieved considerable success in the academic system, I owed it to those who gave me those chances – which changed my life – to speak out when I felt that speaking out was needed. This is especially essential when we see the successful pulling up the ladder after them. (I can’t possibly name them, or I shall be bankrupted by lawsuits, but I suggest that, when you hear the voice of educational superiority intoning words of doom, you should just check what their education was, and, especially before about 1980, who paid for it. You will find an awful lot of people like me who had State grants -yes grants, not loans-which in my case paid for just about the best education money could buy.

Today, I’d just repeat a few things which we all know, and see if you agree with my conclusion.

(1) For years now the school system has been aligned to the League Tables. Some think this system is a way of ensuring standards – which was the original intention of Mrs Thatcher, whose government set them up. Others think that they skew the system, and hinder “real education”.

(2) To a greater or lesser degree therefore (usually greater), all schools dedicate a lot of time and effort to preparing for the exams which determine the tables.

(3) If you decided to become good at playing an instrument, spent all your available music time on practising, and spent most of your day doing this, being guided by a dedicated and well-educated teacher, what do you imagine the result would be …?

To put it in more general terms, if we focus on a goal, we are more likely to achieve it and achieve it well, than if we don’t. (Doesn’t take much working out, does it ?).

So why are so many people, who know these things as well as my readers (if any), so surprised that, in the light of the above, kids do well in the exams to which most of their school time has been dedicated ?

And why are they surprised that this yields more impressive results than were obtained 30 or more years ago, before the Thatcher revolution (for such it was), when schools were not subjected to such evaluation ?

So my “Thought for the Day” is:

The reason for an apparent dumbing down, is because the results actually are better. What you train for, you do better.


WHAT MUSIC EXAMS CAN TEACH US…INTRO (First published on Thursday, 6 August 2009)

Between tomorrow (August 7) and August 18, I shall be writing a daily blog on that perennial August media concern – the examination system. To do this I shall look at the system as it applies to Music, which I think can lead us to important insights.


At the outset potential readers should note various points:

(1) These are not academic articles, complete with qualifications of arguments and footnotes indicating extensive academic research. But they do set out reflections which I have made over decades of involvement with the education system, both in Music, and more widely. They are not mere un-thought out soundings off.

(2) The aim is not, and cannot be to present a detailed blueprint, which will solve all our educational woes. But I do aim to challenge a lot of received wisdom, clichés and ideas arising from motives which are less altruistic than they at first seem. I do this in the hope that my writing may help to clarify and focus on one of the most important questions – how the broad mass of young people are to be educated.

(3) The style is intentionally loose, colloquial and informal. This is because I am not interested in aping the right mannerisms to gain the approval of the respectable world. I hope that the ideas expressed are clear and direct enough to mean that ordinary folk can grasp them and pass them on to their friends and neighbours.

(4) As previously noted, for me the articles are not an invitation to debate with me. People must accept or reject what I say, as is their right. I meanwhile must get on with creating more music.

WHAT’S IN A NAME ? (First published on Tuesday, 7 July 2009)

Quotation of the week:

What’s in a name ? that which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

Guitars  by Jeff Haynes

Guitars by Jeff Haynes

Well, certainly, I’m not sure that the young lady who says this would have seemed so romantic if her name had been Ethel Sidebottom instead of Juliet Capulet.

But first, welcome to my blog. I added this to my site at the suggestion of my former student Nick Bowling, bass guitarist and writer. He said that if they like your music, people like to hear about the composer. I liked the idea, as I find writing words much easier than doing music, and sometimes think I went into the wrong art ! So I shall be writing something every week. Normally the topic will be something to do with music, but sometimes I may well stray into other thoughts.

One other thing. As it says at the top of the screen, though I will certainly read any comments send in, please don’t expect a reply. At my stage of life I have really got to put all the time I can into making music, not writing about it.

So, names. In particular, mine.

I was named Albert Edward Lee, at the request of my mother, who chose to give me the same names as my father. He in turn was so named in honour of the Prince Consort, Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, and the reigning monarch, Edward – the seventh of that name.

This loyal and loving choice has since given me many irritating moments. The last time was only yesterday. A nice lady rang to remind me of a medical appointment; she asked for Mr Albert Lee. As she was nice and trying to be helpful, I answered politely to the name. But my normal response is normally very different, as I will now illustrate by the following mini-drama:

PHONE: Ring. Ring
ME: Hello. Camden 1234 5678.(I actually give my real number)
VOICE: Can I speak to Albert Lee please ?
ME: (Thinks: Anyone who calls me Albert does not know me and wants to sell me
something) I’m afraid he’s not here.
VOICE: Oh. When will he be back ?
ME: He won’t – he’s dead (if I want to be really naughty I say “died”)
VOICE: (embarrassed) Oh, sorry to trouble you. (rings off)

Another cold calling salesman bites the dust !

At an earlier stage I used to answer yes, and on one occasion the person speaking immediately began to ask me where they could send me a (quite large) royalty cheque. For a moment the idea of a great holiday in Greece passed through my mind, but honesty prevailed, as I realised that they really wanted that excellent guitarist, Albert Lee.

In fact, if someone calls me Albert, there is one other possible explanation. They knew me at school. That definitely rules out my wanting to speak to them – I never really fitted in and have never been back since I came out of the gates for the last time in 19- (literary readers will recognise a device to be found in 19th Century novels).

Really, the problem seems to be that authorities have a real problem in understanding that some people are known by their second name. My mother never had a problem – my Dad was always Albert and I was Edward. (also I was smaller !) And I mean “Edward” – she would always correct anyone who called me anything else –including my friends, to my great embarrassment – saying “His name is Edward”).

Yet is it that strange? Maybe it is. Certainly, I have always assumed that my wife’s family were a bit weird, since my wife (first name Jean) is always “Frances”, and her sister (Ida) is universally “Louise”. Just to be awkward, her other sister Lizzie has the first name “Elizabeth”, but insisted on being called this when she went to Art School – in the family she was “Ann”, her second name !

However, “Edward” doesn’t end the story. My wife Jean (called Frances) thought that “Edward” was more dignified for a writer of books (see Books page!), but only after I had been sent into the world of print as “Ed” ! I do call myself “Edward” if I want to seem dignified, or a bit distant, but in certain cases I have announced myself as “Edward” to a person, because I felt that this gave a special element to the relationship. This is because most people, including all my family, children (not “all” – there are only three !), close friends, neighbours and work associates have always called me “Ed”. I even have an Italian form “Nonno Ed” (Grandad Ed) !

There is yet more (last bit !). There have always been some people who call me “Eddie” (one is our family friend Maria). And there are some who know me as “Ted” (old college mates). Over the years, I have tried to devise a theory to explain this, but without success.

If asked, I always say that I don’t mind and will answer to most forms of Edward.

So “what’s in a name?”. In my case, not a lot. But to some people, it is very important. Perhaps the most significant is for Jews, for whom it is a sacrilege to say God’s name, though it is known. Instead, other ways of speaking about or to the Supreme Being are used.

So perhaps I should insist on “Talented Composer” or “Your Brilliance” – I should be so lucky !