Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The taxis are alive with the sound of music


My  recent advocacy of Welsh composers prompted an email from Richard Bratby in which he observed that "I've always... sensed that music as an art, in all its forms, is somehow much closer to the surface of daily life in Wales". Richard is right, as I realised many years ago when I spent time at an EMI production facility in Treorchy, a Welsh town world-famous for its male voice choir. And much more recently I experienced the same integration of music into the quotidian in Crete: when this taxi driver from Sitia heard that we had been with Ross Daly he whipped out his lyra for a spontaneous photo opportunity.

This love of music is just one facet of the crazy wisdom that Nikos Kazantazakis captured so accurately in his Zorba character. Crazy wisdom is counter-intuitive smartness, and Cretans have that in abundance. Conventional wisdom tells us that independent music stores cannot survive. But in Crete, despite Greece's perpetual financial crisis, there were three good independent stores within a few minutes walk of our hotel in Heraklion; in the photo below I am about to part with some serious cash in the Aerakis store. Conventional wisdom tells us that CDs are dead; but independent Greek labels continue to shun iTunes and Spotify. They keep releasing release CDs and people keep buying them. And this crazy wisdom works: live music - and I mean good live music - can be heard in every village and town on the island, and I am pretty sure that there are more CDs of new music released per head in Crete than anywhere else in the world.

Crazy wisdom is what classical music needs. Conventional wisdom dictates that if audiences like Mahler, give them more Mahler. But crazy wisdom proposes that introducing audiences to unknown Mahler-like composers will do a better job of keeping the customers satisfied. Conventional wisdom dictates that ageing audiences should be replaced by younger audiences. But crazy wisdom proposes targeting the many older people who are not concertgoers. (This suggestion is not as crazy as it may seem: by far the largest population growth in the next three decades in the principal markets for classical music will be in the cohort aged 60 and over. Which is an incontestable fact the younger audience obsessives conveniently overlook.)

Most importantly, conventional wisdom dictates that because the current audience for classical music is not large enough to support the cost base, the audience size must be increased. But crazy wisdom proposes that as audience size has not increased in response to frantic promotion, the only option is to accept the current market size and slash the cost base. As Zorba explains: 'You have everything but one thing: madness. A man needs a little madness or else - he never dares cut the rope and be free'.



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