BBC Proms Diary 2018: Well-Tempered Socially Constructed Bach

As I write, I’m listening to Andras Schiff’s late night Prom from last week – the second book from Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier.

It’s the first thing I’ve listened to today. No news. A little bit of gentle morning banter with the OH before he heads off to work. Just Bach.

Music at this time of day – an active choice as opposed to anything curated by a radio station – is an intense kind of experience. The musical equivalent of a highly productive 5am conference call with the States.

If I’m really honest, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever had a conference call with the States, not one person there nor everyone at the same time.  The analogy still holds up though: listening to the live performance of such an intimate and discursive work, first thing in the morning before you’ve heard anything else, creates such an intense kind of focus – the sort of experience you want to have continue for the rest of the day.

I spent yesterday afternoon learning about (or at least getting an introduction to) social constructionism in coaching.

Put very simply, this is the idea that we create our own sense of identity via the interactions we have with others.

I was resistant to the notion at the beginning of the session. Sometimes such learning experiences within the coaching world can feel eerily familiar, or in some cases a cashing-in opportunity on the part of the presenter. But there is something in this that’s prompted a lot of thought the morning after – in an unexpected area too. That’s good coaching. 

A friend of old is staying with us at the moment. We haven’t seen one another for a while. Consequently those times when we connect has a significant impact on my thinking. The experience is something similar to listening to Mahler – made even more intense if the gap between now and the last time we saw each other is wide. Whether its partly down to the coaching learning session yesterday afternoon, or just because of where I am professionally at the moment, the presence of certain people can sometimes be an unexpected and valuable reflecting back experience. Their presence can unwittingly shift me into a thinking state (as opposed to a critical one). 

Applying social constructionism in a pseudo-analytical way, it is important to stress that the friend in question isn’t actively prompting me to reflect back. Merely, his presence and the thoughts which emerge in me (what was yesterday described as a ‘context’) contribute to creating a reality in the moment and also now (well, strictly speaking I think the process of writing creates this moment of reality). 

This approach does of course let us both of the hook so to speak. He is not responsible for the thoughts that arise as a result of our metaphorical connection, just as I’m not. I think I’m right in saying that I’m not technically personally responsible for the resulting reality either. But I’ll revisit that another time. 

The real point here is the reality that was created as a result of the connection. And in this case its a vague sense of self-doubt which, if not kept in check, could escalate into full-blown guilt, followed by a considerable wave of anxiety.

Specifically, this is the idea of what I’ve been writing about over the past few weeks – actually let’s just be honest, the most recent years. I’m talking about the ranty stuff, the pissing and moaning, the calling out of the nonsense and unfairness. The snobbery, the inverse snobbery, misogyny, and various other grit in the classical music engine which has to a greater or lesser extent got my goat. I’ve used that as fuel for the blogging fire.

But is that doing me any good? Am I, in fact, digging my own grave? And if I am and I don’t stop now, will the grave be so deep there won’t be a rope long enough to lower the coffin gently to the bottom?

The friend’s presence reminds me a private observation I’d made a few months ago. There is a paradox about the classical music world and orchestras in particular: orchestras can look big and grand and important on stage; the sector they represent is surprisingly small which is itself a tiny part of a much much larger entertainment industry. 

In this way it’s possible to say that if what I’ve written has the power to dig my own considerable grave, then given the sector is so small there’s every chance that I finished digging the grave years ago and that the coffin is already in it.

And … I’m reminded of something else. Creating content about the subject I love – a ‘friend’ in my life just as, in fact, as any actual person – is an activity I pursue not for those who are already a part of the classical music world, but those who aren’t.

This helps me reconcile one other rather odd paradox.

Writing a blog – any writing come to that – does demand a slight detachment from the group. If you thought about everybody who might read what you’re writing you wouldn’t write at all. So you need to be detached. At the same time, this Proms season more than any other, I recognise an underlying need I have to be accepted by the bubble. And yet, the people I’m writing for aren’t part of that bubble anyway. And that essentially means that writing about a world you’re seeking approval from for an audience who don’t know they even want to be a part of that particular world, is a surprisingly lonely experience. Necessarily lonely too.

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