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Royal composer sets pandemic challenge

Prof Paul Mealor

A royal composer has challenged people to try and go 24 hours without enjoying any of the arts – from music to computer games and Netflix.

According to Prof Paul Mealor, who was born in St Asaph and raised in Connah’s Quay, the fact that most people would find it virtually impossible to live without any form of the arts – even for a day – underlined the importance of saving the creative industries from being decimated during the coronavirus crisis.

He was speaking as patron of the North Wales Music Cooperative whose future is under threat because of the lack of support.

It includes two sister organisations, Denbighshire Music Co-operative and Wrexham Music Co-operative, which were set up after funding for peripatetic music teachers was cut.

Now the  pandemic has brought the Welsh music industry to its knees with staff being made redundant and freelancers starved of any work.

Prof Mealor, who composed the music for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, says extra financial aid was urgently needed for the arts in general and organisations like the co-operative in particular.

The stakes were high with 400,000 creative jobs worth £29 billion to the economy across the UK projected to be lost – 10,000 of them in Wales, resulting in a loss of £100 million to the Welsh economy.

He said: “All we hear is sport, sport, sport. I am a great fan of sport and am fully behind that sector getting the assistance it needs, but this must not be at the expense of creative industries which also contribute massively to the lifeblood of our economy.

“Music, the arts, theatre, events, broadcasting and amateur entertainments organisations employ a huge percentage of the UK workforce. But these are among some of the hardest hit by the current pandemic restrictions.

“Many of them are self-employed, freelancers, transient in the nature of their work. They have two or three different roles, maybe earning a living by both teaching and performing. Opportunities in both these field have dwindled to virtual non-existence, but they are among the sectors receiving the least financial help. Because of the transiency of their roles they invariably slip through the support network and are left to fend for themselves.”

In a bid to push the perilous plight of musicians and artists further into the public eye Paul has called on whole communities to try going one day without engaging with any of the arts to demonstrate how integral they are to our everyday lives.

He said: “I urge everyone to just try it and see how much we will lose if we let these industries slip through our fingers.

“It’s not just performing musicians and the acting professions at risk, it’s the whole creative body – writers, composers, sound technicians, lighting professionals, marketing experts, ushers – the entire workforce and that includes television, tablets, mobile phones, the likes of Netflix and the internet.

“I challenge people to forego them all. Go without TV, music, Netflix, theatre, movies, radio, iPads, iPhones, the internet, gaming, soaps, fashion, painting, photography for one day. I promise you the silence will be deafening, the lack of visual stimulus overwhelming.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Heather Powell, founder of North Wales Music Cooperative, who warned the clock was ticking to save the future of music and the arts across the country.

She said: “I know of tutors who have lost all of their work, others who have seen a huge proportion of their livelihoods simply ebb away and yet others who are desperately struggling to pay rents and mortgages.

“Schools in North Wales are having to let music teachers go, particularly small rural schools which are simply too small to implement the social distancing rules which face to face music lessons require.

“Even those with facilities to transfer online are struggling with tighter budgets which means they cannot afford to pay for ‘virtual’ lessons.

“I have colleagues in Welsh Music services being made redundant and it sickens me that no one is financially helping us.

“The clock is ticking faster than ever to save the future of the music and theatre industry and the latest figures really demonstrate the scale of the crisis we are facing.”

Mrs Powell added: “In our own North Wales Music Cooperative we have around 70 tutors affected by this situation to date. Music in Wales is fast disappearing and this is a tragic situation for future generations.

“It is no exaggeration to say that unless the government steps in with a financial aid package many tutors and performers may have to give up the careers they have spent their whole lives training for.

“That impacts directly on pupils, bright young talents and potential music and arts stars of the future who will no longer be able to access lessons.”

Prof Mealor’s idea for people to try a day without music and arts was, she said, a brilliant one which she hoped would demonstrate how integral these services are to our everyday lives.

“It is not just their educational value, they are essential for our mental wellbeing. Just reflect on the way people turned to music in their droves during the darkest days of lockdown,” she said.

Prof Mealor added: “What a cacophony of disapproval we can blast out if we work together to force the government to help music, theatre and the arts.

“A number of organisations are beginning to rally groups for a collective push on the government. When that call comes, please all join it. It seems that only numbers of people – and loss of possible votes – are able to shame this UK government into any form of action.”