Think of it like the label on a tin of beans


I don’t want to be a bore but I see value in highlighting an observation regarding the discussion about classical music in the digital ‘space’.

And I want to do it here in a blog post rather than on Twitter. Think of Twitter as the hostile sixth form common room with the goths, and the rugby players, and the spiteful lippy girls having a good poke at everyone just for sport. Then think of a blog post as the library during a rare moment of solitude. You’ll see why I’d much rather say this stuff from the relative calm of the library.

I notice how the classical music discussion has been hijacked by populism. It’s become politicised. It’s been weaponised. I see it in the now heated arguments between those who defend the genre as art on one side, those who see it is as entertainment on the other.

Two cases in point.

First, the ongoing debate between music as art, or music as aural wallpaper (see also ‘music to have on in the background’) – essentially a struggle for superiority between two groups who risk losing touch with the very thing they’re passionately defending.

Second case in point: the discussion around what to call ‘classical music’ (this debate, like defining when it’s right to applaud, will never die). Both these debates are ciphers or vehicles, I’m not sure which, in which class or intelligence or any other societal divisions are given fuel.

The Classic Brits ‘furore’ (I’m sorry to drone on about it again) illustrated how provocative PR might have been used to raise awareness for a television programme. ‘Straight out of the Trump/Farage PR manual’ said one high profile singer to me. A chilling moment. Was it really that PR technique at play, or is framing a description your reaction/interpretation of it so (when Myleene Klass’ interview may not have been trolling but just a shit interview) unwittingly politicising it anyway?

Back to thing about to that subject of how we ‘should’ listen to music and, more pointedly, how we should describe it.

To argue about recommended listening strategies or labels in music is to argue/defend about personal identity – an act that still has the potential for good but is currently polluted both by populism and the reaction to it. 

Perhaps in some ways that’s a good thing to be happening for classical music (though it seems so heated and sometimes so hostile as to be thoroughly alienating and counter-productive. It means, for example, that we’re finally talking more and more about the genre in the same terms as visual art has been discussed for the past 50 odd years, maybe longer. If there is a positive to the politicisation I’m speaking of, then maybe it’s the way classical music finally has its place at the table. All we need to do now is put our napkins on and say grace (or give thanks in some way if God is not your thing) perhaps and we can all get on with our meal with a reasonable amount of decorum. Fingers crossed.

I favour the terminology used in a book I’m reading about Charles Ives. It describes in detail the family experience of the Ives family and what impact that had on the young composer. In it the book refers to Ives moving from vernacular and church music to writing ‘art music’, at first in the European-romantic tradition.

I like the terminology. These are more meaningful less emotive terms, detailing intent behind the creativity, and describing the style of the art too. It also neatly outlines the hoped-for stance we might adopt when experiencing that art – a sort musical equivalent to the label on a tin of beans including ingredients and a serving suggestion.



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