Show, please don’t tell

Clemency Burton-Hill, Radio 3 presenter and offspring of classical music TV broadcasting history Humphrey Burton, has a new book out this year. It’s an interesting proposition: a day-by-day guide to discovering classical music in a year.

I’ve yet to look at a copy, but will.

In the meantime I’ve been interested to read the various articles she’s published online to promote it. The most recent especially caught my eye.

In her column for the Evening Standard Clemency explains how listening helped ‘cure’ her of panic attacks in a way that mindfulness failed.

She’s quite down on mindfulness, though I’m not entirely clear whether she’s down on herself for not having ‘succeeded’ with it.

The irony is that to articulate the cognitive dissonance she was experiencing during a panic attack demonstrates that she is already mindful. Self-awareness is, in my experience at least, the first step in understanding what is the root cause of a panic attack and finding a way to manage them.

More than that, it disappoints me that the Evening Standard saw fit to insist that Clemency come up with a list of works which can be relied upon to provide relief for whatever ails you.

In publishing list we’re perpetuating the idea that classical music can be relied upon to do something to us as listeners. As though Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht or Strauss’ Alpine Symphony comes with guaranteed outcomes like cough mixture is sold with side effects printed on the bottle.

This is not a criticism of Clemency by any means. That would be mean-spirited on my part, and totally contradict my post last week about male cuntishness in the classical music world.

But, we need to be ever vigilant about the way we talk about music (and I’m talking beyond the confines of classical music by the way).

We would never try and encourage people to listen to the music of Bowie, Lynn, Sondheim, or Fleetwood Mac by promising an emotional outcome at the end of it. Why on earth are we still falling into the trap of doing it with classical music?

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