Classical music is not a lifestyle accessory
Thankfully it is accepted that attempts to sell classical music as an entertainment have failed. But another and equally insidious threat is emerging - selling classical music as a lifestyle accessory. A lifestyle accessory needs to be conspicuously consumed. So the marketeers have decided classical music must now be conspicuously consumed, preferably via social media. Attending the Proms earns maximum online bragging points, and not just for the prommers, but also for the musicians - see photos - and for the new generation of Twitter-obsessed critics.
Classical music is now something to be flaunted on Facebook alongside photos of the chicken and squash cacciatore rustled up after the concert. And it is not just a taste for the smooth classics that are good for flaunting - Schoenberg and Mahler have also done big business in 'likes' and 'retweets' this summer. And the boom in country house opera has as much to do with Facebook bragging rights as musical excellence.
Positioning classical music as a lifestyle accessory is much more dangerous that just another silly social media craze. The litmus test for an art form is whether or not it changes personal consciousness, either in a subtle or gross way. Consciousness inhabits our inner personal space, and for that reason true appreciation of music can only happen in personal space. But marketing classical music as a lifestyle commodity moves it from the personal to public space, and as a result that essential ability to connect with our inner sensibilities is compromised.
The fashionable dribbles of applause between movements and the glowing smartphone checked every five minutes by the well-connected executive in the next seat are invasions of personal space that rob classical music of its very raisons d'être - the ability to transport us however fleetingly from the here and now to a better place. Similarly the egregious back announcements by BBC Radio 3 presenters telling us why we should have liked a performance are an invasion of that precious private space in which we formulate our own emotional reaction.
I am just a sample of one; but when the many classical experts agonise over why concert attendances are falling, they should take into account that the remorseless invasion of personal space in the concert halls is one of the reasons why I now attend far fewer classical concerts and hardly listen to Radio 3. Live music desperately needs supporting, but recordings are now my preferred way of listening, because I value my personal mental space.
Tonight is the Last Night of the Proms. One of the classical Taliban, who is also a prolific tweeter of their chicken and squash cacciatore lifestyle, has suggested that the Last Night ritual is somehow sacred and therefore above criticism. Well, I disagree. The Last Night was bad enough as a jingoistic celebration of a thankfully-departed colonial age. But its transition into a made-for-media lifestyle accessory patronised by the corporate hospitality industry puts it beyond the pale for me. How long before Jamie Oliver appears at the Last Night of the Proms?
Source for un-Photoshopped header image is BBC Proms website and the footer is from BBC Music Magazine. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).Also on Facebook and Twitter.