A moment of visibility

23rd May 2016 | Daily Life, Musings | 3 comments

At the weekend I had an unusual experience. Following the conclusion of BBC Young Musician and viewers’ anger that the result was so under-reported, I wrote a letter to The Guardian about the wider issue. We’ve heard a lot recently about orchestras folding, opera companies struggling, and arts companies disappearing as their funding dries up. Within the profession there’s constant talk of smaller ensembles such as chamber groups disbanding, disillusioned by their lack of earning power (many talented professionals have told me that it’s not difficult to get invitations to play – but it is difficult to get adequately paid for them).

Everyone says that lack of media attention – lack of reviews, previews and interviews, for example – makes it harder and harder to gather decent-sized audiences for classical music. In my letter I drew attention to where all this seems to be leading: to the risk that classical music could eventually disappear. Obviously there are many who would fight like mad to keep it, but there are also many who wouldn’t.

I’ve written letters to the press about classical music on a number of occasions. The response was always muted. But this time was different: as soon as the letter went online I started to get messages saying ‘Bravo!’ For a chunk of Saturday I was getting a message every few seconds. So far, my letter has been ‘shared’ 3500 times (update: now over 4400 times) on the Guardian website.

I had been expecting to be politely ignored, but to my surprise and excitement it seemed that people were listening.  And, though you can never tell why people are ‘sharing’ things, from the responses that reached me I felt there was enthusiastic support. But why suddenly now? Is it the BBC Young Musician effect? Friends told me that they had noticed letters and articles in a similar vein in Other Newspapers. Could it be that classical music is about to have a moment? If so, we should be ready to seize it.


  1. mary cohen

    Yes! Let’s all try to keep this ‘visibility’ going. It has felt for a long time that Classical Music has slipped into the category of ‘unmentionable topics’ such as Religion. Perhaps we just need to keep reminding people that they are actually surrounded by ‘classical music’ – albeit in clips and as background music – all the time. It is possible to graduate from small amounts of exposure to really enjoying whole movements, then entire works. Perhaps those of us who have been lucky enough to have embraced fully the world of classical music need to make sure we don’t put people off entering into this gradual process?

  2. Rikky Rooksby

    So pleased your letter had this effect. I hope there will be a change so that the hegemony of popular music can be challenged. Back in the 60s and 70s it was the other way round, but how things have changed. I still love much of the popular music I grew up with even if I am now aware of its limitations. But I do not want it assumed that when I walk into a shop or a cafe that that’s want I am forced to hear. And I want the BBC to stop using the word ‘music’ on the Today programme as a synonym for popular music – which it has done recently.

    • Susan Tomes

      Rikki, I do so agree about the increasingly widespread use of the word ‘music’ to mean only pop music. It’s not only the BBC – several newspapers do it as well. ‘Music’ pages often contain nothing but pop. If classical music is mentioned it gets its own subheading, as though it doesn’t really qualify as ‘music’ pure and simple. I find this a disturbing trend and an example of how language can be used to influence people’s way of seeing things.
      I notice too that people are starting to refer to the pieces I play in concerts as ‘songs’. In a way I don’t mind, but in another way I can’t help feeling that this is another misuse of language. A song is something sung by a singer!


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