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.

BBC Proms 2016 / 8: Strictly Prom

Radio 3 presenter and Strictly Come Dancing finalist Katie Derham sounded like she was in her element when I listened to Prom 8 tonight.

I was making my way across London after getting back to Paddington from Bristol just in time to hear the beginning of the concert. Much excited applause. Much warmth. A bit like an early Last Night – a small reward after a week of gentle effort.

Seeing the pictures the hard-working BBC Proms team have sent on this evening, I’m wondering whether there might be a point in time when we might see The Derham presenting Strictly itself. Or, if not that, when we see an episode of Strictly come from the Royal Albert Hall itself.

If you’re unconvinced about the validity of this gig in the Proms celebration, then listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel Overture at the top of the programme. A cracking orchestration revealing the rich sophistication of the score. A delight.

Oh. And it’s on BBC Four tomorrow night. Yay.

Katie Derham on Strictly: Week 2

Katie and Anton danced the Tango on Saturday night’s live show, securing an impressive 28 points from the judges. That vote combined with the pair’s score in week 1, saw them settle into third place on the leader board. Public voting saw them avoid a sticky dance off, though there wasn’t really any danger of that occurring anyway. Katie’s footwork is impressive.

It’s not been until this year I’ve committed to watching Strictly. Katie’s participation – and her representing Radio 3 and the Proms – has been an important part of hooking me in. It’s really good to see her doing well and clearly enjoying herself.

Katie Derham on Strictly 2015 Wk 1

Katie Derham on Strictly: Week 1 

Radio 3 and BBC Proms presenter Katie Derham is on Strictly, paired up with Anton du Beke. I’m keeping a careful eye on proceedings.

Katie stepped on to the Strictly dance floor this evening in the second of two live shows broadcast from Elstree studios, dancing a BBC Proms inspired jive (yes, really) to ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ (boom tish, etc). The performance was well-received by the judges, securing 26 points and a good placing on the leaderboard.

Members of the public weren’t voting this week. Nobody went home. Not even Carol Kirkwood who came last, just one point behind journalist and Radio 2 lunchtime presenter Jeremy Vine who absolutely can’t dance for toffee.

Nice work, Katie. You looked like you were having a ball. Keep it up.