Every morning I walk up into Highgate Village to work in a cafe. The walk involves passing the music block at Highgate School, which is a three-story building with scores of windows, each of which belongs to a separate practise room. A cacophony of beautiful music drifts down onto the street. Every time I walk past, it seems another instrument is playing. Today's cohort of musicians included a young male singer and a flautist. Highgate School plainly has a vibrant musical scene, and I'm often staggered to think that I'm listening to the pupils of just one school. Then I always feel a little sad. Highgate school is plainly one of the poshest and most expensive in the country. And, like all private schools, it values its expressive and performing arts in a way that comprehensive schools just aren't allowed to these days.
We watched Britain's Got Talent yesterday. The episode featured a young black lad playing the piano. Rather well as it happens. Afterwards, he explained that he'd come from a North London council estate and that the piano had saved him from a life of drugs and gang violence, citing his school's music teacher as his biggest influence. The joy about music, drama, art and sport - the very subjects that the government are starving in schools - is that you can be good at them without being conventionally academic. They are the empowering subjects which can give underprivileged kids confidence and hope for better lives. Stories have started to emerge of headteachers tendering their resignations because they no longer feel they can justify teaching the narrow curriculum which the government values. My friends with kids are bailing out of the state school system or paying through the nose to get their kids through their 11 plus exams. It's a horrible mess, and I can't believe that people seem to content to merely stand around and let it happen. Music must not become the terrain of the wealthy.
A woman stopped me outside Archway Tube Station today to ask me where the station was. Because we were standing right underneath the sign for the underground, I wondered if she was looking for one of the local overground stops. "Which station are you after?" I asked. She pointed at the entrance to the tube. "That one." I was immediately rendered speechless! "But you're pointing at it!" I said. "Yes" she said, "I suppose I am." She didn't seem to find anything particularly amusing about our exchange, so I made a hasty exit, in case she decided to ask any more bizarrely obvious questions like "who am I?" Or "what am I wearing?"
This afternoon I trekked down to Borough to run the first round of auditions for Em, and, in the process, met all but two of the third year students who will be performing Em. It's suddenly a reality! And a very exciting one. There are some genuinely talented young people in that year group and I very much enjoyed meeting them. There are some big casting challenges, many of which involve people who aren't from Liverpool, Ireland or Wales having to do those three accents. It's fairly unlucky that we have an entire year group performing this show, none of whom hail from any of the places where the characters are actually meant to come from! Except Ruby. She's a genuine Midlander. You don't get many of those in the entertainment industry. We're all too busy apologising for being any good!