CSA, copyright, and The Pirates of Penzance

Sometimes the breadth of engagement at the ISM can be quite surprising. Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to address the Choir Schools Association (CSA) about the National Plan for Music Education.

The CSA represents 46 schools attached to cathedrals, churches and college chapels educating some 25,000 children. In total CSA members look after nearly 1,700 boy and girl choristers. Some schools cater for children up to 13 years old, others are junior schools attached to senior schools through to 18 years old. Many of them are Church of England but the Catholic, Scottish and Welsh churches are all represented.

For nearly 20 years, governments including Conservative, Labour and now the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition have believed it right to help families with modest means who cannot pay the fees for a son or daughter who has been accepted into one of the CSA member choir schools.

The Government’s Choir Schools’ Scholarship Scheme is part of the older and much bigger music and dance scheme, a multi-million pound programme which gives over 2,000 exceptionally talented children access to the best specialist and dance training available.

Not only that, but the Chorister Outreach Programme (COP) initiative which was devised by Richard White in 1999 is still engaging young people in singing, something which Ofsted has picked up on as being particularly important within our schooling, and which unfortunately, is not as strong as it should be.

So I was a little concerned when I heard that there could be cuts to the music and dance scheme funding which is such a vital part of creating the outstanding musicians of the future.

As if that was not enough to raise concerns, recently I heard about the copyright situation in Australia. With the development of cloud computing and powerful groupings against copyright arguing their case not just in the UK but also in Australia, it does make one wonder about the future of music.

Copyright lies at the heart of the creative process. If you are lucky enough to have the creative gene, then you need to know that your work will be protected, unless of course you decide that you would rather give it away for free. However, most musicians cannot afford to do this and therefore copyright is an essential tool in their armoury.

With the Government launching various reviews into copyright, as a profession, we do need to argue very strongly that this is something which cannot be watered down or dispensed with. Without copyright, where would our great artists be?

And turning to the subject of great artists, I have just had a fabulous night out watching The Pirates of Penzance at a little pub theatre in West London.

Interestingly The Pirates of Penzance was so named after Gilbert and Sullivan had a bad experience in the USA with HMS Pinafore. In the 19th century the US was a free-for-all in terms of ripping off creators - there was no such thing as copyright and hundreds of performances of HMS Pinafore took place without any royalties going to Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Pirates of Penzance may well have been given its name in acknowledgement of the copyright pirates in the States. With copyright being attacked globally by large players it seems that the life of a creator is far from being a happy one even now. So, if you’re in need of cheer, do go and see the very funny production of The Pirates of Penzance at the Tabard Theatre in West London.

Deborah Annetts
ISM Chief Executive