DURING the very first Christmas show we attended at our boys’ primary school - a glorious mash-up of the Cinderella story and a traditional nativity - the Star of the East got a fit of the hiccups in the middle of her scene with the earnest shepherds.

She got through it, trooper that she was, and retreated to her spot at the back of the stage for the next few choruses. Unfortunately, with every hiccup, despite her best attempts to stifle them, her sparkly deely-bopper headband gave a little wiggle, causing much mirth amongst the watching parents.

Choking back our giggles amid deep sympathy for her plight, we made it to the interval and it gave us all a good laugh over the tea and mince pies. (She was oblivious, of course, which made it all the funnier.)

The annual Christmas service/concert/nativity/show has given us a few priceless moments over the years. The time the Star of the East (clearly a troublesome role, that one), momentarily distracted by her hair coming out of her ponytail, let her giant star-on-a-stick droop dangerously low, nearly decapitating the Three Wise Men; the year a flu outbreak and a string of disasters decimated proceedings, prompting the then seven-year-old to announce, dramatically, that ‘a virus has wiped out the angels, the stage has collapsed and we still don’t have a baby Jesus’; and the moment a fast-paced song about a Funky Monkey went very wrong, very quickly, for the young lass trying to get her tongue around the lyrics. “On reflection, perhaps, that was one Funky Monkey too many,” apologised the ashen-faced headteacher, afterwards.

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Ever since those magical days of primary one, when they dressed up in teatowels and tinsel and belted out songs about ‘angel warships’ and ‘Baby Cheeses’, to high school orchestras and plays, music and song has been a much-loved part of the winter term at school.

It is hard to take, this year, knowing that none of this can happen.

Kudos to the teachers and music tutors who have worked incredibly hard to find ways of helping young people continue to rehearse and perform. But the fact remains that music education has been badly disrupted during the pandemic.

According to a recent report by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), there is “genuine cause for alarm”.

“Beyond the intrinsic value of studying music for its own sake, there is a plethora of evidence that studying music builds cultural knowledge, creative skills and improves children’s health, wellbeing and wider educational attainment,” states the report, which reveals more than two-thirds (68%) of primary school teachers and more than a third (39%) of secondary school teachers reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic.

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More action needs to be taken. We have to find a way of doing music safely in schools and across the community, before lasting damage is done.

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