BBC Young Musician and being comfortable with the cameras

20th May 2018 | Concerts, Musings | 1 comment

I was away at the time of BBC Young Musician but have been catching up with the final instalments. As usual, I was tremendously impressed with the standard of playing in every instrumental category. Really, did my colleagues and I play as well as that when we were their age? I doubt it.

Each time there’s a televised competition, I feel more and more aware of how comfortable today’s young musicians are with being on camera. It used to be an extraordinary thing, to appear on television, even to have one’s photograph taken for a newspaper. I still remember the huge excitement and sense of occasion that gripped the National Youth Orchestra (in which I played violin for a few years) when we were televised. We were on our best behaviour, hair washed and brushed, shoes polished, sitting straight-backed, membership badges shining. And how stiff and self-conscious we looked when the camera homed in on any one of us! We were not used to it. How could we be?

Now things are different. Today’s young musicians document their lives in photos and videos shared online. They have YouTube channels and Instagram accounts which they check constantly. From their photos to their CVs, their publicity is of professional quality, like pages from glossy magazines. Who knows if their playing lives up to the image or not? The image seems to be what they want the world to notice.

Looking comfortable on television is a good thing to be able to do. I’m not so sure about the increasing trend to act up for the cameras, to enlarge one’s facial expressions so that they translate easily to the big screen. It seems to me that there was quite a lot of that going on in BBC Young Musician, almost as though competitors practise facial expressions along with their arpeggios. Do they? I can hardly blame them when there is so much talk of the need for classical musicians to ‘show their personalities’.

Yet there must be a balance to be struck. If the parade of emotional expressions – the face screwed up with emotion, the half-profile turned to catch the light just so, the mouth puckered in sensual appreciation  – becomes the foreground, then the music becomes the soundtrack. And what on earth is the point of dedicating yourself to practising these complex pieces for months and months if in the end they are to be upstaged by one’s own televised facial expressions of sorrow and ecstasy?

1 Comment

  1. Mary Cohen

    I remember those terrifying ‘stiffly uncomfortable’ televised NYO occasions – thank goodness things have freed up over the decades! It was a joy to watch Sheku Kanneh-Mason perform unselfconsciously at the Royal wedding last Saturday – drawing in the listeners (yes, not just the observers).


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