Yesterday I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme about Henry Cole, the founder of the splendid V&A Museum in South Kensington. They were talking to a curator of the David Bowie exhibition, one of the most successful of the V&A’s recent exhibitions. The curator was asked why they had chosen to focus on David Bowie. Explaining that he was ‘one of a very short short-list’, the curator added something to the effect that they had chosen Bowie ‘because music is perhaps the one art-form that the man in the street knows about and can relate to’.
I felt a bit sad when I heard that, because it seemed to me there was a word missing from the sentence: ‘pop’. Perhaps pop music is the one art-form that the man in the street can be relied upon to relate to. But it is not true that you can depend on him to know about other kinds of music, and probably not about classical music, more’s the pity.
We heard this week that TimeOutLondon is to drop its coverage of classical music entirely. There have been similar threats elsewhere. The harder it is to come across news and reports of classical music, the less will people be aware of it. There are lots and lots of classical concerts going on, a great many dedicated musicians, and as John Gilhooly pointed out in his Royal Philharmonic Society speech, many determined people working like mad to make sure that classical music continues to flourish.
But everything is relative, and it sometimes feels as though those numbers, real as they are, are swamped by the sheer tide of people who’ve never come across classical music and take no interest in it. We have a generation of young people who were never introduced to it at school, and nor were their parents. They regard classical music as nothing to do with them. Researchers keep trying to tell us that music is good for the brain, that long-form music (such as classical) is a wonderful training in concentration, and that playing and singing are peerless ways to nurture co-operation. But is anyone listening?
We face a big challenge. It is all very well to talk about ‘cultivating the audiences of tomorrow’, but you can’t cultivate things where no seeds were ever planted. Yet things could change tomorrow if classical music were given a real presence in the school curriculum.