I feel like the Proms is distant, perhaps almost forgotten about.
Hardly surprising. Last weekend’s trip to Verbier was enlightening. It enriched too. I saw breath-taking chamber and orchestral performances. That combined with the blissful sense of detachment the mountainside location promotes, made the Royal Albert Hall feel like it was a world away.
I reconnected with the Proms via the NYO’s performance of Holst’s Planet Suite last night. The concert was streamed live via BBC iPlayer, something I really hope there will be more of in future. I really value the idea that iPlayer is a channel which supports a variety of different interests by virtue of it not being driven by the tyranny of linear TV schedules. Knowing, for example, that I can tap into a live orchestral concert via the internet without paying a subscription is, in actual fact, something of a special feeling.
But that indulgence came at an unexpected price last night. Aside from my ongoing disenchantment with Holst’s most famous orchestral piece – its fast becoming wallpaper in my eyes – seeing presenters Clemency Burton-Hill and Lloyd Coleman in front of the cameras at the end of proceedings reminded me of something I’ve slowly come to realise about the classical music world, something of a personal failure in fact.
I can say this now. I couldn’t say it ten years ago. But, I really have no problem admitting it now. If there was a goal at the BBC when I started there in 2005, it was that I wanted to be a presenter. I participated in all sorts of schemes, did a handful of auditions, and sidled up to those who I thought might advocate on my behalf. I reckoned there would at some point be a call from someone saying, “Do you fancy doing a spot of presenting? We reckon you’d be good.”
It never happened. And looking back, I think I know why. I had left it too late before specialising in my chosen field. I’ve left it too late now in some respects. My music degree, although still a recent memory, was something I was awarded in 1994. Whilst my passion and knowledge for classical music may seem obvious to me, it’s not for those outside of my cloudy self-indulgent bubble.
I went through a phase of down-playing my knowledge – around about the time I started blogging – thinking that was the secret to cajoling newcomers to the concert hall. And that if the likes of the Proms wanted to appear more accessible, then maybe a self-deprecating presenter poking gentle fun at the sometime pomposity of the classical music world would be what was required. It wasn’t until a professional music playing friend who I’d studied with pointed out that I was doing myself and my studies down by doing so, that I began to have second thoughts and then abandon all of my child-like dreams. Fool.
Of course, if I was to say that my aspirations to be a classical music presenter on radio or TV never materialised because of that ill-judged strategy would be a little self-absorbed, even for me. Its possible, that I didn’t display any of the attributes necessary: articulacy, a willingness to read a script or be a team player, or a demonstrable track record of professional music making, journalism, or at the very least, knowledge.
Now I reflect on that missed goal, I realise it’s still there. Perhaps the need to fulfil it has subsided it somewhat. Maybe a healthy dose of realism has been injected into my thinking too: just because I think it’s a good idea, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else does.
What I realise now is that the thing I used to feel rather embarrassed about admitting – ‘I’d like to do that job’ – is not something to be embarrassed but a statement of how proud I feel of the thing which derives me so much pleasure and has done long after I stopped playing. It’s not that I want to be on television. I realise now that I want to be associated with the likes of the Proms in some way. I still see a place for someone like me. I see room for an ‘audience rep’, mediating for those who are sometimes mystified by the etiquette and legacy of the genre.
Such is the effect a Youth Orchestra Prom concert can have. All of the performers in the NYO were born after I graduated from university. They are the ones who made it, the ones who had the talent, the ones who worked the hardest, and the ones who secured the place they richly deserved. One should never regret, of course. But as each year passes I look on an NYO Prom and wonder whether I could have worked a little bit harder a little earlier on. Maybe it wouldn’t feel quite so much like I was running to catch-up.
It was the end of proceedings live on BBC iPlayer which really hit home. “Great music,” says Lloyd, “and great company. Thank you very much for having me Clemmie.” “Are you kidding?” says Clemency Burton-Hill turning to Lloyd, “you were fantastic.” It’s a little cheesy, but its heartfelt. I should have played the game. Should have done my time. Should have displayed a modicum of talent earlier on.
It’s only the day after when I go searching the internet for ‘Lloyd Coleman musician’ that I discover something else. That like me, Lloyd is a clarinettist. He’s interested in broadcasting, produces his own show. The fundamental difference is that he’s a former member of the NYO, still a musician and now a composer.
I should have worked harder.