Call the Musician #6: An Open Letter To UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
The Rt Honorable Rishi Sunak
Chancellor of the Exchequer
11 Downing Street
I am a concerned physician and musician who has been apprised of your reported exhortation to the leagues of struggling musicians that they should seek a more “viable” mode of employment. I understand your comments were not aimed solely at musicians but rather at pretty much everyone.
However, to the degree that musicians remain included in those so exhorted, I would respectfully submit to you that the expected decrease in the total amount of music heard and played will have a significant cultural downside for the following reasons:
there is now a large body of empirical research substantiating the salutary effects of music on body and psyche alike. Not only are there beneficial results regarding anxiety reduction and mood stability, but also medically significant improvements in blood pressure regulation and immune system response, and amelioration of cognitive disturbances, particularly those involving memory;
music is important neurodevelopmentally, particularly in the facilitation of language development, reading skills, and successful communication as whole;
Children in musical group interaction programs were found to have higher emotional empathy scores
most recently, studies at Cambridge have shown that children in musical group interaction programs were later found to have significantly higher emotional empathy scores, compared with children that did not participate in such programs.
I would even wonder whether the diminishing numbers of musicians and amount of music might put the UK in a position analogous to a Benedictine monastery in France – whose monks were enjoined from their usual chanting by a Vatican directive in 1960 that forbade the use of Latin, and, as such, Gregorian chants.
Following this edict, these monks developed profound degrees of fatigue, listlessness, depression, and respiratory difficulties. Various medical prescriptions, such as a change in diet, medications, and a vitamin regimen, all proved futile.
It was only when the monks were permitted to resume their chanting, were they restored to full health ...
Sleeping longer hours only made matters worse and – of especial concern to economists – the expected work output of the monastery came to a near standstill. It was only when the monks were permitted to resume their chanting, were they restored to full health – with the consequent resumption of their usual level of productivity.
Please know that the previous paragraph is utilized for paradigmatic comparison and not as advocacy of Gregorian chanting for the furtherance of individual or collective economic viability.
However, it is because of the potential (and, I would think probable) applicability of this paradigm, considered together with the research finding cited above, that I would strongly question any policy that stands to lower the GNMP (Gross National Music Played). And it is my strong sense that now is not a propitious time for the reduction of the GNMP, given the adverse consequences of withdrawing that which might promote optimal neurophysiological and empathic development as well as individual and social healing.
I confess that the concept of GNMP may not yet exist (or at least has not been found in any of the works of Malthus, Keynes, and Friedman, as confirmed by my brother, who not only, mirabile dictu, actually read their writings, but who, like you, was also educated at Oxford and the Stanford Business School). However, my furtive forays into matters economic have convinced me that economists have a penchant for utilizing acronyms beginning with G and ending in P. And my level of concern has impelled me to use whatever techniques of ingratiation I might summon -- such as the disingenuous invention of a spurious economic concept -- no matter how tawdry or shameless.
It is a source of much consternation that the government of the United States has been largely inimical to all artistic communities: indeed, our National Endowment for the Arts has routinely faced elimination in the President's budget proposals. As such, Mr. Chancellor, you have the opportunity to be a role model for a less civilized former colony -- and I can only respectfully request that you seize it.
I thank you very much for your consideration of this letter.
Bruce S. Victor, M.D.
Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association
(former) Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco
Overseas Fellow, Royal Society of Medicine (really!)
Guitarist, Cittern and Bouzouki Player, Vocalist, NOCTAMBULE