Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 01:00 UK

Music lesson plea by star Sting

By Nick Horton
BBC News

Perhaps the plea was not too surprising from Sting, the former teacher who became one of the biggest rock stars the UK has produced.

Sting and Trudie Styler
Trudie Styler and Sting have been married since 1992

But no-one in the audience at the Hay festival doubted the passion in his voice when he warned against scaling down music lessons for children.

The singer and bassist made The Police the world's biggest band in the 1980s and recently led them on a money-spinning global reunion tour.

But he has spent much of his career experimenting with everything from jazz to classical to medieval music, and drew his loudest applause of the night when he was asked how to help the young appreciate all kinds of sounds.

"We should stop cutting music programmes in schools," was the immediate reply.

"It's vitally important that our kids are exposed to music: give them the opportunity to play instruments."

Sting, who left the classroom in the mid-1970s to become a full-time musician, recalled how his favourite lessons involved borrowing as many instruments as he could - "guitars, banjos... nose flutes! And let the kids mess around".

He warned that while the country did not produce much any more, "we do make art and music".

Sting

It's still a mystery to me, the whole idea of how you write songs, and I've been doing it all my life
Sting

Sting was at the literary festival in Powys with his wife, the actress and producer Trudie Styler, to discuss Twin Spirits, a play they performed on Broadway as an Aids benefit about the 19th Century German composer Robert Schumann and his wife Clara. The couple were accompanied by the Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans, who performs as Clara on stage.

The Schumanns' story ended tragically, with Robert confined to a mental institution at the end of his life. Sting said he would not reprise a role which was "too sad, too heartbreaking".

But despite his problems Schumann was highly productive, and in 1840 alone wrote about 100 songs. Sting admitted: "It's taken me 30 years to write 100 songs, so I'm kind of jealous".

The composer of some of the biggest hits of the past three decades, from Every Breath You Take to Message in a Bottle and Englishman in New York, also confessed that he could not explain the art of his songwriting.

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"It's still a mystery to me, the whole idea of how you write songs, and I've been doing it all my life".

Pressed to say whether he wrote songs for his wife, he said: "Of course I do." But he dismissed as banal "I love you, you love me songs", whereas "I love you, you love somebody else, is more interesting".

Celebrity watchers will have been intrigued by small glimpses into the life of a power couple. Asked how they kept in touch when their busy lives keep them separated, Sting joked: "Well, we don't Twitter".

Neither is he good on the phone, with a technique which amounts to: "Hi, how are you? Me too, bye..." Mercifully, no-one in the audience suggested they try a message in a bottle.

But Ms Styler described her husband as a prolific e-mailer. He added: "I do good love letters, I'm very happy to say". Which means he treats e-mails like formal letters, starting with "Dear..."

Judging by their schedules, there will be more of those.

Ms Styler's next project is as producer of a film called Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, David Bowie's son, and Sting is working on a new album of songs about winter, which he called "a dark record: it's not about chestnuts roasting by an open fire".

But it seems unlikely he will be sending too many e-mails from Championship football grounds next season. Sting, born Gordon Sumner in Wallsend, Tyneside, 58 years ago, was asked how he felt about the relegation from the Premiership of his team, Newcastle United.

"It's a soap opera and has been for a couple of years, and will continue to be in the Championship or whatever it's called," he said.

"It'll be interesting to see the Toon Army (Newcastle's followers) at Doncaster or wherever. I'm still a fan - sad but true."



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