So the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has suggested that musicians and other creative artists may need to re-train and look for other opportunities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis”, he said. ‘Everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality.”
I don’t know how long politicians spend in training before they can expect to be appointed to a top job, but I daresay it is only a fraction of the time that most classical musicians spend in training. Most of us start learning our instruments when we’re children, practising daily alongside our schoolwork for years, attending music courses in the holidays, playing in youth orchestras and other kinds of music groups.
I’m probably a typical example: after about ten years of daily music practice as a schoolchild, I went to music college for a year, and then to university. My course was largely academic, so in the summers I attended music courses to improve my playing skills. After I turned professional, I continued to do so, at my own expense. The training got more and more advanced and refined – what the French delightfully call ‘stages de perfectionnement’. I and my colleagues considered it necessary if we were going to subject ourselves to assessment by music critics and international promoters. We knew we were going to be judged by global standards.
As a professional, when I had important recitals coming up, I went for lessons with eminent pianists. Nobody said I had to, but I wanted to judge myself against people I admired. Most artists, even when they have their own careers, want to keep travelling that path towards greater expression and mastery of the instrument.
All this amounts to years of full-time training, plus years and years of part-time training. Which is why it is so painful to be told that some musicians will need to ‘adapt and adjust’. Surely this is Catch-22! Our workplaces are closed. We can’t work. Because we are not working, the government says our jobs may not be viable. Because they are not viable, they are not worth supporting in the future. Clearly, in the government’s eyes, ‘viability’ has nothing to do with value beyond mere finance.
In fact, the musicians of this country have proved time and time again that they are industry leaders on the global stage. Our government should be standing up for us!