What classical music can learn from jumping fleas

Received wisdom (though they back it up with figures) amongst the classical music marketers I know is that audiences are no longer persuaded to listen to an unfamiliar work by the presence of an old favourite in the second half - in fact, that the opposite effect now holds good: 5 minutes of new music in a programme will actually deter people from listening to music they already know and like. I have to say that my own observation seems to support this.
My recent post about how audiences become what they listen to is given painful relevance by that comment which was added to the Facebook discussion on another post about falling attendances at classical concerts. Richard Bratby made the comment in a personal capacity, but as his day job is senior education and ensembles co-ordinator at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra his wisdom is worth noting. Of particularly concern is that the short-term fix of serving up only music that people already know and like now means that classical radio stations are extracting 'greatest hits' movements from complete works; so how long before this idiocy spreads to the concert hall? Just one example of the 'greatest hits' mentality was Tuesday's BBC Radio 3 breakfast programme which served up single movements from each of the following complete works: Tchaikovsky and Mahler symphonies, Beethoven, Brahms and Haydn concertos, a Borodin string quartet, and a Bach cantata. If classical music 'experts' like BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright - who recently laughably declared "Context is all - the mundane programme is our enemy" and Universal Music ceo Max Hole - whose condescending classics brainchild Sinfini Music provides my graphics - really want to know why classical music audiences are shrinking they should reflect on this fable:
There once lived a man who trained fleas. As soon as they were born, he carefully separated them and put them in their individual glass jars. He put enough food in each jar for them to survive and sealed them with metal lids which had holes in them so they could breathe. Soon they began to grow larger and larger, and, fleas being flea, began to flex their muscles. Unfortunately, every time they jumped the young fleas would hit the lid. And after several jumps, the fleas learnt to gauge the height of the jump exactly so that they wouldn't hit the lid and damage themselves. In due course the man removed the tops of the jars. At last freedom was possible! However, the fleas had already learnt to jump only so high and no higher. And that's how the freedom that was theirs by birthright and only a short hop away was lost for ever.

Fable comes from Five Minute Stretch by Robert Thé - it's a long story so please don't ask. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Elaine Fine said…
Then there's this counterexample:

Once upon a time lived a king
Who owned a handsome flea….
....a flea, hahahahaha .....a flea.

He cherished him and loved him
As though a son were he…
A flea, hahahahaha ...a flea ha etc….a flea…

He called the royal tailor
Who toiled for days and nights
To make the flea a doublet
And fancy purple tights.
….purple tights.

A flea hahahaetc

Our flea is dressed in velvet
And silks of golden hue
A ribbon o'er his shoulder
A jewelled order too...
...a flea! hahahaha...a flea!

A minister they made him
A diamond star he wore
And all his poor relations
Got orders galore...

The courtiers, male and female,
They were no longer gay.
The queen and all her ladies
Were pestered night and day, ha ha!

To scratch they were forbidden,
They had to bear the prick.
But we, when we are bitten
Know how to scratch... and kick!


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