Monday, January 16, 2017
How classical music squandered its golden opportunity
David Munrow's Pied Piper BBC radio series broadcast from 1971 to 1976 introduced thousands of young and not so young people to classical music. The title was particularly apt because classical music's Pied Piper led his unsuspecting audience on a rich journey of discovery. In the same way other influential animateurs such as Leonard Bernstein with his CBS television Young People's Concerts and André Previn with his BBC TV Music Night programmes also helped new audiences discover and explore classical music. It was not just media figures that provided leadership on that journey of discovery. Conductor John McLaughlin Williams recently recounted how the proprietor of Serenade Records in Washington DC, which closed many years ago, led him on a journey of discovery through Medtner, Glazunov, Glière, and many other composers. And as a customer I have made many invaluable discoveries in the soon to close Prelude Records in Norwich, England, discoveries which were shared with readers.
No latter-day animateurs have emerged to fill the shoes of David Munrow, Leonard Bernstein and André Previn, and independent record stores are now almost an extinct species. It can be argued very convincingly that the demise of bricks and mortar retailers is a sad but inevitable result of disruptive new technologies and changing lifestyles. But the same new technology - the internet - which triggered the demise of the independent record store opened up a golden new opportunity to lead new classical audiences on that vital journey of discovery and exploration.
Ten years ago classical blogging reached its apogee led by the eclectic Sequenza21 and Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise, with the latter blog acting as a curtain raiser for the eponymous and hugely influential book which led countless new listeners on a journey of discovery through 20th century music. But the late noughties saw the arrival of social media led by Facebook and Twitter, which soon replaced blogs as the communication platform of choice. Social media was initially billed as micro-blogging, and presented classical music with a huge opportunity to share discoveries; thereby filling the vacuum created by the neglect of music programming by mainstream media and the disappearance of bricks and mortar record stores. But sadly classical music squandered that opportunity - and how.
Social media could be a powerful tool for the sharing of music discoveries to mutual benefit. Instead it has become a vehicle for ranting, self-promotion, click baiting and the mind-numbingly mundane. There will always be those who abuse an open resource. But did classical music really have to join the race to the bottom with such alacrity? Did music critics really have to join the other 317 million Twitter users peddling the same banalities? How many times in the last month did you learn something about classical music from social media that has made a difference to you? Classical music desperately needs new online animateurs. When will classical music's great and good stop re-tweeting the same tired memes about Trump and Brexit, photos of their dinners and tonsorial revelations*, and instead start inspiring and leading that vital new audience on a contemporary voyage of discovery?
* That header tweet came from Hugh Canning who is classical music critic for the Sunday Times and a member of the Critics' Circle. The tweet was not privacy protected and therefore available to any of the internet's 3.2 billion users. Despite protestations to the contrary Twitter is a medium of record, irrespective of context. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).