MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 10, APRIL 2001  
Online Journal

LIFE MIGHT NEVER BE EASY, BUT AT LEAST WITH THE ARTS WE CAN ESCAPE A LITTLE.

MusicTeachers.co.uk's editor John Woodford looks at reasons why concert attendance in this country is so poor.

One of this month's feature articles, a frank discussion with conductor Jos van Immerseel, was done on a recent tour of Belgium and Holland, where some of the most exciting instrumentalists I have come across live and work. Their numbers are great - you only have to wander around The Hague to discover this - but their standing in the international community is relatively low. There is a simple reason for this…they have no need to move from their native countries and, although they do visit other lands, it is mainly at the behest of concert promoters and organisers; few, if any, actively look abroad for work since there is enough to keep them occupied at home.

Belgium is a small country, one that is generally overlooked by the thousands of holiday-makers who drive like fury once alighting at Zeebrugge in their search for sun, sea and sand. One cannot blame them - the north is industrial and appears to have few appealing features, and unless one leaves the motorways and actively investigates a town or village, much of its charm remains undiscovered. As one friend remarked, "Belgium's always shut", an unfortunate view that is held by many. Despite a ten million population, it proudly boasts a musical heritage and artistic life that is second to none; more concerts are staged per capita than in any other country in Europe, and concert attendance is certainly much higher.

Holland is flat, and living there would cause one to be immediately homesick for the hills and vales of England. Again, concert attendance is amazingly high and both the government and recording companies act responsibly by promoting home-grown talent.

One needs to question why there is a disparity between concert attendance on the Continent and in England. It can have nothing to do with standards - indeed, our orchestras and the stunning technical facilities that our solo and ensemble performers display are the envy of the Western world. One friend did suggest that it might have something to do with the attitudes of performing musicians to the 'music of the masses'. She might have a point - when we, as qualified and well-trained musicians, look down our noses at the likes of Little Lottie and Russ we do send a message to just about everyone that theirs is not the sort of thing we want to be associated with; it is perhaps worth remembering that the revenue from their CDs alone is possibly enough to fund no end of Schoenberg or Shostakovich projects. But I think that there is another, more fundamental, reason. The world of Art music is seen to belong very much to the middle classes - go to any of the music colleges and you will become immediately aware that the number of regional accents you hear is very small - and that, resultantly, there cannot be anything in Classical music for others. During the 1990s, opera managed to break free of this stigma, due, in part, to the World Cup, and such characters as Pavarotti became household names. Nigel (dare I still use his first name?) Kennedy did as much to promote instrumental music. No matter how much we don't like to hear his phoney accent or see his punk hair, he has been responsible for bringing music from Vivaldi to Hendrix into homes across the land.

So where are the rest of us going wrong? Are we too bound up in our own little world of music to see that it has very little meaning for those who solely want to be entertained? Are we happy to sit back whilst the few do the evangelising and hope that some of the glory comes our way? I think that the answer is a definite 'yes'. We ostracise ourselves from the majority of would-be music lovers by excluding them from our world. We use terms such as 'Classical' to describe music, the mere mention of which is enough to raise barriers that shouldn't be there. Music is music, and no matter what it is, or who's playing it, it has an amazing capacity to move, to make us feel free, to allow us to escape, even for a little while, from the shackles of our existence. Let us emancipate ourselves and instead become evangelists. As musicians we are teachers, and as teachers we need to shout about how wonderful it is from the rooftops, to tell everyone that what we do is great, that they will enjoy it, that it can brighten the life of even the most down-hearted. And it is our responsibility to make sure that we do just what we were trained to do - not play for ourselves, but for the masses. Life might never be easy, but at least with the Arts we can escape a little.

So rather than putting on our favourite CD and greedily keeping the music to ourselves this holiday time, let us instead share it with others.


John Woodford  


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