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An Essay in Defence of the Dowdy
We might not be hip, dashing or exciting, but do we really have to kowtow to the glitz and glamour of the pop world?

The best of British: industrious and talented, a far cry from the image Channel 4 presented.
The best of British: industrious and talented, a far cry from the image Channel 4 presented.

If we are to believe Channel 4's documentary Faking It, classically-trained musicians are little other than dowdy geeks who, dressed in drab colours and looking decidedly unworldly, are waiting to be set free from their own personal musical prisons. In a recent programme they managed to persuade some poor cello student from one of Britain's better conservatories to train as a disc jockey to see if the job was really all that difficult. I have to admit that she was quite entertaining and managed to show that, with a modicum of common sense and a few brain cells, one can often achieve just about anything. Although I applaud our young cellist with the nous to be able to get up and do what many of us would feel an impossible task, I cannot help but feel that, at the same time, she also did the music world a great disservice. Words to the effect of "Until now, the only dance music I knew about was the sarabande and gigue", combined with a deliberately down-market appearance – how she shone once she had cast off her Laura Ashley apparel in favour of more glitzy attire – in reality only fed an all-too-popular perception of the music world in general. Had the director, instead of lying to his audience, opened his eyes to what was going on under his very nose on the day he filmed at the college, he might have seen a more interesting story in which hundreds of music students strive to achieve levels of perfection that, to many, would be deemed unreal. But no matter how well-meaning the programme, it subliminally tarred all musicians with a disturbing stereotyped image that is both unfair and inaccurate, and I would challenge anyone to pick a musician from of a crowd on looks alone. One only needs to observe them letting their hair down to realise that there are no differences between them and anyone else…with the exception that from the age of eighteen, they have fulltime and gruelling jobs: for ten hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, they strive in an insatiable desire to make music and take chances of which few others would dream in an attempt to ensure that they achieve their wildest ambitions. They are to be applauded as the best of our youth, not ridiculed by some has-been programming director trying to milk entertainment from an all-too-familiar misconception.

And whilst we are on the subject, spend a little time thinking of these students as they enter their final terms this month. In most conservatories, nothing is guaranteed: they can, and do, fail degree courses with a single poor performance. Continual assessment has no role here: whether they are up to the mark as recitalists is all that matters…their lives as musicians begin with a gamble and only the very hardy will survive. And ask them if they think it is all worth it. The answer will always be an unqualified 'yes'.

John Woodford  

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