Channel 4 to strike a chord with 'The Great Instrument Amnesty'


Channel 4 has commissioned Fresh One to make a three-part series in which internationally renowned classical pianist James Rhodes aims to get Britain playing again – and demonstrate the power of music to change lives – by launching this country’s biggest ever ‘instrument amnesty’. The programmes see James launch his ambitious experiment in Basildon, working in partnership with the people of one town to prove that his approach can work nationwide. It will be accompanied by a major campaign to build on this case study, spreading the amnesty across the country and getting instruments currently languishing in cupboards and attics to the musicians and potential musicians who need them.

When James Rhodes says music can save your life, he’s speaking from experience. For him, playing the piano was the route out of an abusive childhood that left him struggling with addiction problems, in and out of psychiatric institutions and suicidal. Now he’s turned his life around and is playing sold-out concerts across the world - but back home, he thinks we’re sleepwalking into a disaster.

James thinks that music education in this country is in a shocking state, and he’s most concerned about the group in greatest danger and greatest need: kids in primary school. Many of them never get their hands on a proper instrument, and for too many, music lessons are an expensive and inaccessible luxury. In the course of his research, James encounters one school where the music budget is £2.20 per child per year and finds out that music provision is simply missing from the list of criteria by which OFSTED inspectors judge a school’s performance – with predictable results for its place in the list of priorities.

These kids aren’t just missing out on the pleasure of playing – they’re missing out on an activity that can develop their brains, improve their behaviour and inspire them to push themselves further. And if they can’t be captured at this crucial age, what hope is there for the rest of us?

James’ DIY solution begins with a Basildon primary school which at its last OFSTED inspection was put into special measures. The school has no instruments and teachers are already stretched to the limit. But as he tries to redistribute the ‘musical wealth’, he’ll need to draw the whole town into his big idea, persuading people to give up their oboes, flutes and violins and drawing in established musicians (and a surprise star or two) to offer their enthusiasm, support and expertise. If he can show what can be done in Basildon, he hopes to inspire the nation to join in – and to persuade to government to do its bit to make this musical revolution last.

James Rhodes said: “Within the space of a generation, music education in this country has been decimated. Where once it was inclusive, widespread and available, it is now, sadly, seen as a luxury rather than a basic right. I am so thrilled to be working with Channel 4 to address this. Music has an undeniable, proven positive impact on self-esteem, discipline, teamwork, numeracy, behavioural problems and confidence. The fact that it has all but disappeared from the majority of our state schools is as shocking as it is appalling. This is potentially the most exciting and rewarding project I could ever hope to work on and, with the right support, it's something that I hope will create lasting change.”

John Hay, Commissioning Editor for Arts, said: “James is a genuinely inspirational figure and with this series, he has found his cause. The instrument amnesty is one of those ideas that – once described – seems so obvious and so right that you wonder why it isn’t already happening, so we’re delighted to be able to throw the channel’s weight behind it to try and bring about real and permanent change.”

Jeremy Lee, Executive Producer for Fresh One said: “We’re delighted to be working with James Rhodes again on his latest adventure. With Fresh One’s years of campaigning expertise and James’ passion and determination to make a difference, this ambitious project has all the makings of a perfect storm.”

Produced by Fresh One (The Sound of Musicals, How Hip Hop Changed the World, Streetdance and Jamie’s School Dinners)

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