Yay, Mr Davey

Radio 3 names and faces – presenter Clemmie Burton-Hill and controller Alan Davey – are out online banging a drum ahead of the BBC’s Opera season.

Clemmie’s opinion piece for the Evening Standard lays out the familiar assumptions and lazy journalism opera has long fallen foul of, contrasting them with present-day reality of the medium. She concludes with an impassioned call for curious viewers to watch the programmes and ‘have their minds blown and their hearts broken’.

Standard fare, but a tired stance.

Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey (find him on Twitter as @ArmsLengthAl) offers a more sophisticated and thought-provoking angle.

Making an appearance on the Classical Music blog, he reinforces the contribution BBC Radio 3 makes to the UK cultural landscape, demonstrating how it supports and appeals to the next generation.

Hence the long list of Radio 3 and Proms-related achievements that feature young people. Highlights include BBC Introducing – the BBC’s actively and carefully-curated talent search – this week celebrating 10 years. So too Radio 3’s Next Generation Artists scheme. The Proms ‘Inspire’ scheme does what it says on its tin. Young Musician gets a mention too.

I’m really hoping that Young Musician can continue on its current trajectory. . Originally, the revamped series was trying desperately to justify its rebranded self by adopting an X-Factor visual grammar. It was infuriating to watch.

But I see a change in the programme today – it’s easier on the eyes. It doesn’t dumb down quite so much. It’s pulled back on the over-dramatization. The most recent series injected a little more deference to the art.

The Young Musician point is uppermost in my mind when I read this in Davey’s blog post:

“As the BBC has shown through its Ten Pieces initiative – if you can get young people to engage with classical music and not dumb it down, they will listen and respond to it.”   

BBC Ten Pieces is an incredible endeavour which achieves what it set out to do: a simple solution to a problem which won’t ultimately be solved until music is his Government’s education policy reinstates music at the heart of the curriculum.

That a senior editorial bod at the BBC is comfortable acknowledging publically that dumbing down is not the right approach to appealing to a new audience is incredibly reassuring. It gives the sector something its needed for a long time: a bit of confidence about itself and what it delivers.

Later in the post, he goes a little further in clarifying the approach to new audiences,

“You shouldn’t assume knowledge from any audience, but you can assume, from a millennial audience in particular, an innate openness to music, a curiosity for the unfamiliar, a desire not to be short-changed by the in-authentic, and a possibility of seriousness that means classical music is near the top of the list of things an audience could be curious about.”

The use of the term ‘millennial’ isn’t good, it has to be said. A number of twenty-somethings I know have told me how much more they dislike it too. I’ve heard industry people use it on-air and in print. Surely, if you’re looking to appeal to that demographic not to use a pejorative term to refer to them seems like a good start.

Alan Davey credits a potential new audience – let’s call them twenty-somethings rather than ‘millenials’ – with curiosity and openness. In doing so he abandons the paternalistic stance most usually adopt when referring to the challenge facing classical music marketers appealing to the ‘replenishers’.

Davey gives a clear confident statement about how the pursuit of new younger audiences isn’t some kind of Holy Grail. He is unapologetic about the content. Good. It’s the lazy thinking and tired approaches that need challenging.

Yay him.

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