2014. That was a year wasn’t it? Same as last year. As my blog about touring has come to an end, I decided there were two ways to look at it. I could either stop entirely or I could expand my ramblings to non tour related shenanigans as well. I’m choosing option 2.
So as well as touring, there will now be teaching, flute related stuff, writing stuff and anything else that takes my fancy. I’ve no idea what’s going to happen so I thought, as every other blogger/writer/critic is doing a round up/prediction thing of 2014/15, I would too. Here goes. Please note that names, places, times and facts may have been changed…
Kids in Concerts
The subject of kids in concerts raised its Haribo flavoured head on more than one occasion this year. It’s a tricky one. You naturally want young people to come and watch concerts and this does mean sitting quietly, preferably without moving. However, there are some ‘adults’ who have insisted on glaring at my kids when I’ve taken them to see the orchestra. It’s almost like they are using some kind of Vulcan mind trick to force them to involuntarily make a noise which they can then complain about. I think we just have to accept that some people enjoy being offended and complaining about it. It’s just a shame that they all seem to write classical music blogs. If we are going to have a lower age limit for concerts, we should also consider an upper age limit for all those whistling hearing aid loop hackers, rustling carrier bag hoarders and explicitly experienced concert goers who like to let everybody know that they know EXACTLY when the piece finishes by clapping as soon as possible into the silence at the end of a concert. There should also be a special pen for people who think it’s perfectly all right to shush some poor soul who, relatively quietly, dropped their programme, thereby making more noise than the original offence.
Sorry, I’m digressing. You may have noticed that none of these things which annoy me as a performer are child related (nor are they age related, I hasten to add) - they are in fact, people related. Maybe we should all just try to be a bit more tolerant in 2015. I learned my lesson recently when during a very important flute and piano recital, my musical thought processes were continually interrupted by the burbling of a small child. I tried to ignore it, soldier on and think of Britten but, eventually, as the golden section of the finale of the Mendelssohn Flute Capriccio drew near, my inner artist could stand it no longer. For the first time in a concert (voluntarily anyhow), I stopped. Like all great artists, I singled out the offending child in front of the assembled crowd and asked them to leave and come back when they were a little older. However as I resumed playing, upset by the rumpus, more children began to cry and I was forced to stop and leave the stage.
Kids 1 - Art 0.
It was only when I walked out of the building that I realised what I had done. What with all the touring and working hard to earn a pittance in the ‘creative industry’ of my choosing, I had failed to recognise my own wife and child who, after I had expelled them from my recital, were looking none too happy. As for the other blubbing kids? It may have been a mums and toddlers concert, but I am a serious artist and always put the music first and the enjoyment of the audience second.
The Ageing Audience
Every year, another article appears which claims that classical music is dead/close to death, is irrelevant, full of white middle class males, staid concert clothes/presentation/lighting etc etc. If this article hasn’t been written by an ex record company producer by February of each year, somebody will simply find an old one and repost it on Facebook. As nobody ever reads anything online anymore but just glances at the headline (but not the date), these articles can go round and round forever enabling the bitter and twisted bloggers to become irritated all over again. They become, if you like, reoffenders.
One of the things that everyone gets particularly vexed about is the aging audience. I’m still not entirely sure why. I remember people worrying about this when I was a child well back in the last century. Now by my simple calculation, many of the older audience back in the 1970’s must now be dead. However, we in Britain have a brilliant knack of producing more old people to fill the gap. In fact, alarmists in the media keep telling me that by 2040, over 60% ish of the British population will be over 65. Brilliant news for classical music! Lets build some bigger halls for the audience explosion! Even better, old people are living longer. It’s a win win situation for everyone.
I’m already rethinking the idea of an age cap for concerts.
What does worry me is not the audience. Some people will love classical music and be drawn to the gates of the halls. Some people will never like it. That’s all right. I don’t really like ballet. I can see the grace and skill and all, and I love a lot of the music, but as an art form, it doesn’t really do anything for me. That’s all right.
I took my teenage son to a concert the other day and I felt very out of place. There was an unwritten dress code that I was unaware of and so felt like the odd one out. There were no programmes and so I simply had to guess what pieces were being played and as the surtitles appeared to be broken, I was unable to follow the action on stage. All I could tell was that the tenor in the lead role seemed pretty pissed off about life. As there were no seats, I had to stand, just like at the Proms. I felt a little more comfortable then as it all seemed familiar, however, when we all start bobbing up and down at the last night of the Proms, we all know when to do it, as people start honking horns and the conductor does a playful gesture so we know what to do. On this occasion I was continually taken by surprise when all the teenagers around me started jumping up and down with no warning whatsoever. No honky horn. No knowing winks from the conductor. They all seemed to know the music in advance and I don’t mind telling you that I felt alienated and unwelcomed. If these rock bands want to attract an older audience, then all these silly conventions and lighting effects will only prevent that from happening. What they need is one of those nice crossover singers with good teeth. And surtitles.
With the continual destruction of music education in this country, what worries me in is not the lack of audience, it’s the lack of musicians. As a parent of three young musicians, I can tell you that the costs are crippling. The electric guitar has now overtaken all other instruments in the popularity stakes and music colleges have for years been fighting over a few select applicants to fill their courses on some instruments. My local County Youth ensembles have gaps on many instruments where there just aren’t the number of kids wanting to play classical music anymore. The music syllabus my kids have learned for GCSE and A Level revels in splitting up the last 50 years of pop music into impenetrable sub genres and yet the previous 400 years of Western music history is glossed over into Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary. My worry is, that one day, never mind subsidies, never mind audience sizes, there simply won’t be enough well trained musicians willing to scrape a living in the British music business.
Mozart in the Jungle
Surely, it’s got to be a good thing having a drama based on the life of a musician on the TV right? Of course not! Don’t be stupid! It’s those bitter bloggers again, the reoffenders - they’re at it again! You don’t need to watch it because they’ve already told you it’s crap! Working in the music business isn’t like that, because one of their friends is a musician (no names of course) and they’ve said it’s nothing like reality. They say there is too much sex, not enough Mozart, all the details are inaccurate etc etc. Yep, they’re probably right, although as most of the people moaning about it already don’t work as musicians themselves, I’m not sure how they’d know, but there we go. Of course, it’s not accurate - that would be a documentary, and my goodness me, a documentary about the life of an oboist in the music business would send people rushing to switch off before the third reed was scraped. NYC is very different to London too and so maybe we should consider doing a gritty series based on the life of a freelance London musician in the future...
Beethoven in the Shopping Centre.
Westfield 2035 AD
Classical music has fallen apart. The concert halls have been closed after the government officially downgraded the attention span to 24.3 seconds in 2029 rendering all symphonies at first obsolete and then illegal in the post Arts Council Islington directive. As all cultural experiences must now reach fulfillment within 20 seconds (including rondo, sonata form and opera cycles) most customers of the arts receive delivery through superfast downloads direct into their iris/cochlea implants. Cultural experiences are now available at the swipe of a screen 24/7. Special approval for 40 second duration projects is granted only in years which celebrate composer centenaries, bi-centenaries and war commemorations up to and including the Napoleonics. This special approval can be sought from the Temporary Withholding Arts and Treasures Source, or TWATS for short. All paintings must be 4MB or fewer. Sculptures must be fully realised in 2 dimensions and the Turner prize can only be awarded for conceptual art - ie the concept must not be realised due to storage constraints.
A group of renegade musicians who had been doing concerts in underground venues like...er… the underground, have decided to take matter into their own hands. They have realised that the only way to perform Beethoven in 2035 is as a flashmob in a shopping centre. Traditionally, flashmobs had gained the most ‘likes’ and ‘views’ in the early 21st century and they aim to replicate those golden days for the arts by performing Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 as a flashmob in full view of the TWATS security cameras right in front of Claire’s Accessories….
Happy New Year!
This is my personal blog. All views are my own and are not endorsed by any of the organisations I work for.