Let’s keep musicians on a slightly elevated plinth

Musicians have to be good at what they do and keep their insecurities deep beneath the surface. I’m not sure I could do that.

I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome amongst musicians whilst I’ve been out here in Monte Carlo.

It goes on. We’re all victims of it. Anyone who claims they’re not is lying. The bastards.

So given that we’re all liable to look on others and think, “I’m nowhere near as good as them,” why would musicians be any different?

And given that is basically a fact (without any real evidence to back the statement up), you’ve got to hand it to musicians who must as a matter of sustaining their careers, resist expressing what they really think about their peers.

Because if I scan the internet on a daily, hourly or minute-by-minute basis as I do, I know what I sometimes fleetingly think about my peers. Jealousy rears its head. Rationality fights its corner. Sometimes I have to involve others in righting the ship.

If I do that, musicians must surely do the same.

They must surely listen to recordings, attend concerts or cling on to tittle-tattle and wonder how they fit into the grand scheme of things.

The only difference is they have to maintain a split personality. A sense of awareness on the one hand to know what they think of themselves and of others, and the ability to judge who the people are they can trust such that they can, as and when they need to, let their guard down and say what they really think and feel, and seek out the reassurance they need without fear of judgement or negative consequence.

Who’d be a professional musician? Who’d be a soloist? Who’d be a member of a quartet?

Do quartet members on a rare night off in a city where a festival has another quartet playing for example say to another, “Shall we creep in at the back and have a listen? What do you think?”

And, if they were to say yes to one another and then attend and then discover to their horror that the group on stage is better than them, what would they say? Would they just stay silent? Would one of them broach a difficult conversation about their future? What does the person who wants to express their innermost insecurities say to the others in the moment of greatest neediness?

What do the others say in the event that the quartet member pipes up? What do they all say to one another if they discover that the group they’ve turned up to listen in on turns out to reinforce their own self-belief? What do they say then? Is the walk back to the hotel a silent one, or does one of them propose heading to a bar where they’ll order a bottle or two of something cool and (probably fizzy) where they throw their heads back and laugh like queens? .

All of this sprung to mind whilst I was stood at the waffle iron this morning. There, stood looking into the middle distance was the second violin from last night’s Monte Carlo concert. I nearly went up to her to thank her for her efforts.

That might seem a little disingenuous on my part, like I’m having a mild dig. Not a bit of it.

These people are sort-of celibrities by virtue of the fact they’ve been on a stage, elevated above the rest of us doing a thing that the rest of us on some level regard as magic. They’re driven to do what they do in part because us rubber-neckers marvel at their wizardry. We applaud them or criticise them because they meet, exceed or fail to reach our expectations.

But when they step off the stage, step out of their concert gear, sling their instruments on their backs and head back to their hotel, they’re no different from you or me.

And I love that. I love them being all everyday in the same space I occupy. I love having a glimpse of them waiting for a waffle to cook, or commenting on the quality of the bacon. In those moments my expectations are reset. The miracle of what musicians actually achieve under the stage lights is laid bare. They are unwittingly providing me with an entirely different kind of performance. A reality that no camera can capture, not even Christopher Nupen. A bubble I don’t want to be the person bursting.

When I sat back down at breakfast my eye was twitching. I still felt tired. I was still obsessing about whether I could really trust the mortgage company customer service bod who assured me that they wouldn’t be attempting to take a second mortgage payment four days after the last. Soon after I’d bit into a piece of cheese, I was thinking about the various bits of work I still had to finish off, convinced that there were countless others who lived a similar life to me who did it in a far more organised way. They wouldn’t make the same kind of schoolboy errors I felt I was making in my day to day work.

When I headed back to the breakfast bar the violinst was still there. Either I was eating too quickly or her waffle was in danger of burning (if it hadn’t already).

I could have said hello. I could have thanked her. I had my chance. But at the end of this unexpectedly satisfying day, I’m rather glad I kept her in her bubble. I think its better our musicians remain on a slightly elevated plinth at all times.


I don’t normally use this blog to talk about anything but classical music and related issues. But, I’m making an exception today because the clusterfuck that is Brexit has reached a pivot point this evening that from a journaling perspective at least needs to be documented.

It wouldn’t be Thoroughly Good if you didn’t get the full picture.

I’ve listened to politicians drone on about the will of the people, about the need to respect the result of the referendum, about how great swathes of society are disillusioned with the political elite which is why they voted to leave Europe in the first place.

And today, as soon as Theresa May announces she will leave Number 10, swathes of ‘arch’ Brexiteers suddenly announce the deal they rejected so roundly twice before now, they’re now happy to back. Brexit was about the Conservative Party. If you didn’t realise it before, I hope to God you realise it now.

Apparently, it will be a ‘brighter future’. It might be. But that will be by accident (if at all), it certainly won’t be by design. And it certainly won’t be for the ‘British people’. It’s about the Conservative party.

So much for taking back control. The control is in the hands of a small political elite the kind who have totally alienated people like me.

And with a completely inept opposition, I am for the first time ever, entirely unclear who exactly to vote for.

Batten down the hatches. This lot are in power for a good fifteen years yet.

No names no pack drill

I’ve been doing a whole lot more reading this weekend.

There’s a lot to catch-up on. There’s a lot of words to cover in each copy of the New Yorker. The delivery schedule is as relentless as it is reliable.

Reading is – this won’t come as a surprise to anyone – a gratifyingly mindful process. Thinking is slowed down to a nostalgically heady pre-2005 era. The heart rate plummets. New connections are made.

It hasn’t all been a pleasurable pursuit.

In amongst the comparative definitions of aspiration and ambition, a potted history of journalism, and a remarkable account of a lifelong journalistic inquiry into the life of Lyndon Johnson, Tom Yarwood’s long read on the Guardian has been in comparison quite harrowing.

It reminds me of a conversation with an old pal from school I had in Edinburgh after watching a play about male rape, staged in a chain hotel that triggered memories about similar experiences I’d struggled with as a teenager.

It was a tough time. I went to the GP. I went to see a psychiatrist and everything. It all got quite dark at one point.

I recognised what Yarwood said about shame and a sense of responsibility. Unlike him however, I don’t have to see the person responsible for the initiating act listed on concert hall programmes.

It’s a tough read, but a thought-provoking one. The ethical expectations on the industry are as a result very high. Appropriately so.

The pomposity of it all

I’ve been working on a review today, one I pitched to a publication a while ago.

I drafted the review a few weeks ago, but only returned to it today afresh after I sought out any others views online.

Discovered one other review, published on a reasonably recognisable platform (that’s as far as I’m prepared to identify the platform), read it and then gasped in amazement at the credit at the bottom.

“[NAME OF REVIEWER REDACTED] was on a press trip funded by [INSERT NAME OF FESTIVAL]”

I get why some platforms feel the need to detail what’s paid content, advertorials, paid reviews, or content marketing. I understand why its important to distance such content from ‘proper journalism’.

But let’s be clear about something. Most if not all international festivals (and a fair few UK festivals too as it happens) invite journalists, bloggers, influencers and the rest to their events with free tickets, and in some cases travel and accommodation. They don’t do it on the basis that they assume you’ll write favorably about their endeavours. They invite (and fund) on the basis that they want some kind of coverage. At least, that’s how I’ve always seen it.

And another thing. The same platform (which I’m fairly certain still doesn’t pay its contributors but happily takes its content) applies for press accreditations for their staff and accepts international festivals paying their travel and accommodation to attend, and yet those individuals don’t flag that their trip was funded by the festival they’re writing about.

Strikes me that such credits are less about protecting the independence and journalistic values of the platform, and more about distancing itself from the individual who has submitted the content in the first place.

Let’s be realistic for readers, festivals, and PRs. There’s precious little money available for writers. The people who are available to attend such events can’t fund their trips themselves, that’s why festivals set aside budgets to pay for writers to visit. That arrangement doesn’t influence my assessment on whether something I’ve listened to or watched. And if you’re a journo who thinks it does, then it probably says more about how easily swayed you would be in such a situation rather than what it says about me.

Such credits essentially discredit everything the person has taken the time to write about the event they were presumably pleased to attend in the first place.

The pomposity of it all.

No. Actually. The hypocrisy of it all. Tsk.

Different things to different people

In recent years, John Lewis and Partners has created a bit of a festive monster.

The retail brand’s 2018 Christmas advert illustrating the life of Elton John in a series of sentimentalised vignettes cut to ‘Your Song’ has a far more ambiguous message than in years gone by.

On Friday nights Gogglebox some dismissed it saying there is insufficient Christmas spirit about it, as though Christmas is something that can be manufactured and distributed accordingly like a gas.

Other commentators complain the advert is inaccurate: John Lewis doesn’t sell pianos; the cost of the piano is wrong; it’s unlikely such a small boy would be as excited to get a piano. At one stage on the day of the advert launch (the day all hell broke loose in Westminster the morning Dominic Raab resigned), some were defending John Lewis against the naysayers by thanking the organisation by underlining the importance of music education in the UK.

We’re unable (or unwilling) to play host to ambiguity it seems. We have no available time to reflect on what something means for us, demanding instead that we’re told what to think by someone else. If it’s billed as a Christmas advert then it should say Christmas and if it doesn’t it’s crap.

I see it as a well-loved institution inviting the viewer to consider one aspect of Christmas – giving – with an eye on the longer term.

The idea resonates with me. I’ve grown rather tired of the idea of giving presents as a way of fulfilling a need in the recipient; similarly, gifting to meet explicit wants. I’m now increasingly of the mind that gifts are gestures – the beginning of a journey. Some of those journeys don’t always get underway. Of those that do, the best gifts of all are the ones that keep on giving for the rest of our lives.

The John Lewis Christmas advert is a remarkable platform for Elton John to drive streaming revenue and sell his farewell tour of 2019. You wonder whether he actually needs something like John Lewis and Partners to do that. Perhaps John Lewis needs Elton John, more than Elton John needs John Lewis.

But I appreciate the ambiguity. It makes it possible for the advert to mean different things to different people.

I see a heartfelt message about the gift of music, its effects on us as individuals, and the role it plays in our everyday lives, something all of us regardless of genre take for granted in an on-demand world.

I like the fact that Christmas is referenced but not front and centre. And what it leaves me considering is that whatever it is we strive to achieve at Christmas, we might strive harder to sustain all year round and beyond.