I was half-listening to the radio this morning when they were talking about fishing rights. The concept of ‘zonal attachment’ was being explained. I learned that this was a new and scientific way of approaching the issue of fishing rights. Fish move around; from year to year their favourite locations may change. Therefore, instead of assuming that fish are going to be where they have always been, it makes more sense to do annual surveys of where they actually are, and divide up access accordingly.
I started wondering if this concept could be useful in the music world. It often seems as if we go to play concerts in places where there used to be good audiences, taking no account of the fact that things may have changed. Conversely, we don’t go and play in places where it might be the perfect moment to visit because, for example, they’ve been undertaking a brilliant regional programme of music education.
I still remember with pain an occasion some years ago when I drove for several hours through driving rain to do a solo recital for a music society. The correspondence leading up to the concert had been entirely normal. I got there and did my on-stage rehearsal. Shortly before the concert, the organiser popped her head around the dressing-room door and said to me in a subdued tone, ‘I just wanted to say: don’t be surprised if we don’t get much of an audience tonight. Our membership has declined steeply in the past few years, I’m afraid.’
‘How many people do you expect we might get?’ I asked with sinking heart. ‘Maybe forty?’ she replied.
And so it was. There were around 40 people, spread out in ones and twos throughout the building as if they didn’t know one another (and this was long before the age of social distancing). Now, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy playing to them. But had a ‘zonal attachment’ survey indicated that there were few classical music-lovers swimming around in that area that year, I might have at least waited until I had several concerts around there, to make more sense of the journey.
Of course, if a zonal attachment survey showed that there were huge numbers of music-lovers all clustered in the same place, there would have to be some sort of quota system allocating musicians the right to play to them during the season. But that might work rather well. At least it would guarantee that all sorts of musicians would have their turn on the platform.