Scotland reaching out to the world

11th September 2017 | Musings | 6 comments

On Saturday I enjoyed reading Ian Jack’s fine Guardian article about the Queensferry Crossing, our striking new bridge over the Forth (see photo taken from the Pentland Hills yesterday). Many of his comments resonated with me, a fellow Scot. He recalled how the previous Forth Bridges were designed and built by British engineers with British components. By contrast, the new bridge sourced its designers, contractors and materials from around the world. A large part of the workforce was local, but otherwise the project was distinctly multi-national. Most Scots would share Ian Jack’s mixture of emotions on hearing that a) the expertise and materials were not Scottish but b) Scotland is successfully reaching out to the world.

Ian Jack’s words were still in my head when I was researching the result of this year’s Scottish International Piano Competition which finished yesterday in Glasgow. Its website lists the competitors and the results of the various rounds. If you have a look, you’ll probably be struck as I was to see that the vast majority of competitors were from other countries. On the one hand, I feel proud that Scotland now attracts people from all around the world. On the other, I feel dismayed by the lack of home-grown competitors. Is it really the case that we can’t field candidates to take their places alongside the oustanding young Turkish, Romanian and Georgian pianists who won the top prizes?

Part of the answer has indirectly been supplied by an anonymous A-level student who wrote a very enlightening blog, ‘Why are our schools pushing classical music to the margins?‘ for Gramophone Magazine. It’s worth reading in full. For now, an excerpt:

‘The increasing normalisation of viewing classical music as a niche market, as a long-forgotten relic of our past, has undoubtedly led many young people to overlook its qualities, meaning many who may have forged a lifelong passion for classical music have not. We must not overlook the power of a school curriculum to shape popular beliefs, and if a curriculum sidelines a musical genre, we will likely choose to sideline that genre ourselves.’


  1. Rikky Rooksby

    The blog referred to makes a number of telling points. And this is also why the fact that increasing numbers of concerts in the Proms are being given over to music which is not classical is also a concern and part of a similar marginalising.

  2. Steve L.

    Some of the blame (well, a lot of it actually, in my view) lies with the ‘classical’ composers who have been navel-gazing for the past 75 years, having considered true connection with the public to be beneath them. Composers of popular music — in many forms — were only too ready to fill the breach.

    • Susan Tomes

      Well, Steve, I rather agree with you. Though it is interesting that one doesn’t hear the same criticism levelled at modern artists or playwrights, no matter how bizarre their work may be. Once again, music seems to be differently treated.

  3. James

    Dear Steve and Susan,
    Yes, I agree with you but you both miss a very important point. Music has revolutionized because of the introduction of electrical instruments. This is the main reason why ‘pop’ music has become the most common type of music heard today. I don’t have any fear that our own type of music will die out… New listeners just need to hear and be moved by one great piece… and they’re hooked!

  4. Steve L.

    I can’t speak for Susan but I was referring to ‘classical’ music composed within the past 75 years. I’ve listened to my fair share and can assure you I’m not hooked. Moreover, I’d argue that quality popular music (think Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and the Gershwins, just to start) displaced contemporary classical compositions long before amplification became widespread.

  5. James

    Steve; I meant that listeners just need to listen to one good piece of classical music to be hooked. Getting hooked on anything post-Webern that’s not pop is fairly difficult, although I must say that I find great beauty in Kurtag and Feldman’s music.


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