Re: It's official...you don't need to read music
I speak from the simple fact that if you've ever seen a local band play or a band on record - the majority of the members of those bands will not read music. Only one member of Radiohead can read music; none of The Beatles could - this list goes on. Out of a year at college of 40 people, there were maybe three or four of us who could read music at all; and my reading of music is best described as 'underpracticed'.
The point I'm also making is that the GCSE isn't really an academic test. Sure, you get a grade and a certificate out of it - but the GCSE's don't really constitute towards anything at the end of the day. Sorry guys who are sitting them, but that's the simple truth. They don't. They are merely a stepping stone for further qualifications and those are what actually count. GCSE's are not qualifications that stand up in the place of work - yes, they are relatively simple and the step up to A-Level is actually enormous. Work that would earn you top marks at GCSE earn you D's at A-Level. And perhaps the GCSE's are a celebration of mediocrity - but it is simply not necessary for musicians to read music all the time.
Written music as we know it has only been around for 400 years, lest we forget and whilst the staples of 'formal' musicians have required reading abilities, the vast majority of Western Musical Practice is what I would describe as 'informal' and that is to say that performances are not necessarily merited on their technical abilities and audiences are more relaxed. For such music - which can be just as technically demanding - reading music is not a prerequisite to performance.
I come from a Classical background, odd as it may seem. The first instrument I learned the play was the 'Piano and I also did Classical Singing for a few years after that and reading music greatly helps when no recording exists of the music for previous reference - as it would have been hundreds of years ago. Sheet music is actually the older equivalent of 'demo tapes' today and just as a band will audition a new member after giving them a CD of their recordings for reference, orchestras give sheet music to their members for the same reason.