Reflections on #ABO19

I don’t want to be one of those people who talks about how busy they are.

I see it a lot on various Facebook groups I’m a member of – ones intended to make freelancers like me feel ‘less lonely’.

What the protestations of busy-ness usually end of doing is triggering my Cynicism Gland.

It is, as far as I can make out, a similar malaise as the twenty-somethings I used to follow on Instagram whose postings consist of pouting lips and cocked heads.

Instead, I’d rather say I’m a bit anxious about the remaining work I must get through. Unfinished projects aren’t good. Imagining potentially unhappy clients tapping their fingers on imaginary desks is enough to increase the heart rate.

So, I’m keeping this post reasonably tight. Back to normal ramblings on announcements and releases in the days to come.

Demanding but rewarding

Why the workload is causing mild anxiety is partly down to last week’s totally absorbing Association of British Orchestras conference in Belfast I attended.

Conferences are, once you get into the swing of them, both demanding and distracting.

Listening to presentation after presentation through headphones (I was capturing events for the ABO Podcast – episodes out on Mixcloud over the next few days) demanded focus.

Trying to edit material in amongst the melee was also similarly demanding.

I was there to work, to learn, to curate, and to network, the combination of which was – this isn’t a moan – exhausting.

Back to core principles

The highlight for me was the appearance of Sir Roger Scruton in the final ABO session ‘Recapturing the Audience’.

I sat at the front of the audience listening to what he saying on headphones, keeping an ear out for any unwanted sounds which might then need to be subsequently edited out. The result of that focus was something rather magical. Take a listen.


Scruton is a controversial figure whose criticisms he robustly rebutted early last November. But in his closing ABO speech he went back to core principles, describing sounds, and the difference between hearing and listening in a compelling way. His evocative script had a hint of neuro-linguistic programming in it, putting me as a listener at the heart of the music he was annotating in an arresting and thought-provoking way. I found it a suitable closing – a return to the foundations of what classical music means to me – that stripped away the noise created by the necessary business of selling classical music and the confusion that business sometimes creates.

Other #ABO19 highlights and notables

Reflecting on the impact a conference has does, I think need to be done in the days that follow. I tried to do it on the flight back from Belfast International Airport but it was all too manic and the challenge of getting back from Gatwick Airport to Lewisham on a mixture of train, tram and buses all too distracting (I succeeded by the way – it cost me £4.70).

Now I look through my notebook, some thoughts seem worth sharing now, thoughts which arose from conversations with others, and attending presentations. More in a special Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast in the coming week.

  1. Advocating classical music means more than just saying everything is brilliant, it also means being able to say that something hasn’t quite worked.
  2. Playing rank and file in youth orchestra was described by one now professional musician as an experience which tamed the ego; I remember it fueling mine.
  3. It surprised me when some people I spoke to for the first time told me that they followed me on Twitter. I forget that. It did stopped me in my tracks momentarily.
  4. I met a PR hero from the past – someone I knew of from 25 years ago but have never met face to face in the intervening period. It was quite by chance. It was incredibly invigorating. She has quite the most remarkable energy about her.
  5. I interviewed one person who runs one particular orchestra whose clear vision is demonstrated in the orchestra’s activities. And that vision is to a large extent an illustration of the kind of person that individual is: warm, open, interesting, and engaging. Those people aren’t necessarily in the limelight. I wonder whether they need to be.
  6. There’s a disconnect between the language used some in arts management and the language the audiences some ensembles are reaching out to in order to drive ticket sales. My assumption is that a more unified (and simplified) language would be more efficient – cleaner, if you will.
  7. Everyone seems to be coalescing around the classical streaming story currently bounding around. It is fundamentally a positive story. But I question whether its the orchestras who are necessarily benefitting financially from that story. Or whether they will in the future.
  8. Classic FM’s reputation is broad and solid. It’s messaging (reflected in multiple sessions I attended) is strong, concise and very clear. It’s a stark contrast to the sometimes confused messages some ensembles put out. I see Classic FM more as a platform than a radio station as a result.
  9. I did wonder at various points whether against the present backdrop of streaming and Classic FM, that at some point BBC Radio 3 as a network would eventually die. What might we be left with? Two commerical classical music radio stations, with the BBC providing broadcast orchestras for its summer-long classical music festival. If streaming is enabling discovery of an art form in a new audience demographic, what’s the point in a radio station?
  10. The human impact of a potential no-deal Brexit on lives, livelihoods, and organisations is saddening. Individual stories about how Theresa May’s deal could impact on day-to-day life in Northern Ireland worrying.
  11. Bumping into a Youth Orchestra contemporary in a lift and surprising her with the connection she hadn’t previously realised we shared was a delightful moment I shall treasure for a while to come.
  12. Also, the Chavorenge Children’s Choir (see below) are heartbreakers.

The real big thing

Most important – perhaps the big headline for me coming away from the conference – was an overwhelming feeling of being a part of a community I worried that I’d abandoned twenty odd years ago and, as a result, would struggle to feel a part of again.

Bumping into people I half know, with whom I felt comfortable sharing and developing ideas with about a subject I feel at home with, left me with a sense of completion – the opposite of imposter syndrome. A reward for time spent scribbling, talking and editing.

I returned to London feeling invigorated. I felt like a legitimate part of the community. And I don’t even run an orchestra.

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