If it annoys you, it’s probably not meant for you

Why I’ve shifted my perspective on the dumbing down argument

I’ve often railed against the misrepresentation of classical music wherever I’ve found it – on air or in print, the way classical music is categorised, or the way people emote about it.

My often ranty (some say curmudgeonly) responses have been rooted in a feeling of alienation, feelings driven by my assumption that those who seek to reach out to new audiences reject knowledge, experience or familiarity believing it to be anathema to the newcomer.

Apologists for art aren’t my bag: I want people to be moved, not just entertained.

Such a hardline stance is, I’m proud to annouce, changing.

One converastion online yesterday reminded me of this shift.

If you’re not already aware, a couple of people distributed a clip from a 50 minute documentary spotlighting Britten’s Young Person’s Guide – one a series of programmes as part of the BBC’s Our Classical Century season.

I’ve been critical of the OCC documentary series, though have enjoyed the one of spotlights fronted by Josie D’Arby and Katie Derham. Both docs have immersed the viewer in a familiar work, highlighting familiar melodic, harmonic and textural elements in a way that celebrates the documentary makers of the past and satisfies classical music obsessives like me.

Not everyone agrees. Those who tweeted in response to the clip online – an unfortunate exchange between presenter Katie Derham and a BBC NOW timpanist – saw the thread as opportunity to criticise and berate the presenter.

I didn’t like it. I responded with a defence. It was instinctive. It certainly wasn’t solicited. It saddened me a bit.

Full disclosure. I sometimes chat to The Derham at those events we’re both present. It’s always a pleasure. Katie is always warm. She talks about her love of music with genuine enthusiasm. That Katie re-learned playing the violin for a TV documentary and was game enough to have the BBC document her learning the basics of conducting for a TV programme (Maestro), makes me feel a bit jealous of her. I would have loved to have been her doing that.

And, if you’re looking for the crux of this post, I’d love to have her gig on In Tune.

There. I’ve said it.

That’s probably why I didn’t like the use of the unfortuante clip in question by a professional musician as a way of illustrating calls for classical music to be treated with deference on TV and radio.

There’s a lot of it about. Also, just to make this post even more confusing, I used to do it too.

What’s changed for me isn’t only the fact that I’ve exchanged words with the person in front of the camera, it’s that over the past few months I’ve finally arrived at the insight that not everybody engages with the music in the way that I do. And that whatever way you listen to classical music, that’s good enough.

That might be too much of a leap for a blog post. I should probably explain my thinking.

My shifted perspective is this. A publically funded broadcaster, by and large, isn’t interested in appealing to people who are familiar with, knowledgeable of, or experienced in any particular art from. People like me are members of the choir – what’s the point in preaching to them?

So if I watch something, be it on publically-funded or commercially-driven platforms, its probably by virtue of the time constraints and production values, not going to be something that is pitched at me. There are other people out there who might be interested in classical music who think or respond in a different way to me. And that’s OK.

Also, a production note you may not have considered. The fact we’re able to see that clip isn’t solely because the presenter asked the question. It’s also because the director and cameraman didn’t think to question whether it was worth shooting the sequence again. It might be because the director wasn’t paying attention. It might also be the producer didn’t feel they had the budget to accomodate shooting the sequence again. It will also be because whoever it was at the BBC who was responsibe for the broadcast, approved it and let it be broadcast.

To criticise the presenter (implicitly or explicitly) seems a bit shitty.

Because the thing is, I rather enjoyed the programme.

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