IT will be a big setback for the local music scene if the plan to close the 15-year-old Music Office goes ahead, warn music teachers and learners. They are worried thousands of young music learners will be forced to pay higher fees at private centres, or give up learning music altogether. Dr Chan Wing-wah, chairman and director of studies at the Chinese University's Department of Music, criticised a government proposal to shut down the office in 11/2 years' time. He described the plan as ''irresponsible'' and ''depriving youngsters the right to learn music'', saying thousands of youngsters might be driven to hang around in street corners because they could not find healthy programmes to join. The Government said in the recently released ''Arts Policy Review'' report that it was planning to close the Music Office, the only government body set up in 1977 to promote interest in music among young people. Up to $40 million a year can be saved because of the closure. Its job of offering instrumental training to youngsters is likely to be transferred to other non-government organisations, such as the Academy for Performing Arts. ''The Government is withdrawing its responsibility to promote arts and healthy youth activities,'' said Dr Chan. ''The Music Office provides not only instrumental training, but also some continuous healthy youth programmes. The weekly lessons enable young people of similar age and interests to meet.'' The Music Office provides weekly instrumental music training to over 3,000 people aged between six and 23. Trainees who attain a good music standard can join orchestras and bands. Its training fees at the elementary, intermediate and higher levels range between $60 and $150, which is at least three to four times lower than that of private centres. Dr Chan also wondered if the APA, as the Government suggested, could take up the job since ''the teaching philosophy and methodology of the two bodies are totally different''. ''The APA focuses on professional training; only students with a good foundation of music are admitted, but the Music Office offers training to any youngster interested in music.'' He said the Government should have expanded the Music Office instead. ''If the Music Office has to be shut, the Government should think of other long-term youth programmes which can benefit youngsters at a low price.'' Mr Hui Iu-shing, music teacher of CNEC Christian College, said although many schools were offering music training, they were ''small in scale and limited to one or two instruments''. ''Schools often focus on academic studies rather than music or arts training,'' he said. Fourth-former Cheng Ka-ming of La Salle College, a Music Office student for six years, said: ''It's really a pity. We are going to lose a place which we also consider as a meeting place.''