Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, February 05, 2010

The passion players: amateur classical music in the UK

As an amateur musician who plays in several Edinburgh orchestras and a string quartet, I liked this article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. Here's an extract:

As he drove me across the chill Co Durham hills, Cobweb ­conductor Andy Jackson said: "Why is it that in our culture doing ­something extremely complex – like playing a ­musical instrument – only quite well isn't really valued? Surely there's something wrong in that."

It's the slur of amateurism, of course. Derived from the Latin verb "amo", to love, amateur, strictly ­speaking, means "one who loves or is fond of; one who has a taste for anything", according to the Oxford English dictionary. But because it also implies one who cultivates a skill as a pastime rather than a profession, it has come to mean a mere ­"dabbler", someone who lacks true ability. Something happened with the rise of recording and broadcast. A century ago, if you wanted to get to know a piece of music, you might well have to play it yourself, especially if you lived outside a major city (this is one reason why there are so many piano reductions of the great symphonies). There's a wonderfully moving, funny example of this in Arnold Bennett's The Death of Simon Fuge, published in 1907, which Margaret Drabble rightly calls "one of the greatest short stories in the ­English language". The ­narrator, a British ­Museum curator, visits Stoke-on-Trent. His prejudices about the uncultivated provinces are dented when he stays with a local (Manchester Guardian-reading) architect, who, with his friend, a Birmingham ­manufacturer, proceeds to sight-read the whole of Strauss's Sinfonia Domestica (1903) in piano-duet reduction – 45 minutes of then bracingly contemporary music. At the end, the manufacturer turns to his friend and laconically enquires: "What dost think of it, Bob?"

Funnily enough, my main orchestra (Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra) - the one for which I chair the committee and do a lot of instrument shifting - are planning to do the Sinfonia Domestica. Probably not next season, but maybe 2011-12: we're currently rehearsing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and his Symphony in C, so we need to pace ourselves.....

Why? Well, here's the last part of the Rite:

And here is the last part of the Sinfonia Domestica:

While I love the Stravinsky to bits, and the Strauss is just my the kind of nail-you-to-the-wall orchestral heavy metal, even I think we'll need a rest in between!


At 06 February, 2010 09:59, Anonymous Phil said...

Brilliant article, only marred slightly by the author ignoring all the other music that's going on out there! As a folk singer and occasional whistle-player (a rare public excursion is caught here) I agree completely with this:

"When you play music you are an agent, you are doing something rather than being a consumer or a subject. For me, it's part of being a human ­being."

Dorward gets to the heart of it. The slow and patient acquisition of the skills needed to play an instrument; the almost inexpressible pleasure of doing, creating, playing: this is what makes amateur music-making so ­precious to the people who are lucky enough to be able do it.

I really ought to get some practice...

At 10 February, 2010 02:56, Blogger Rob said...

As a performing folkie in a previous existence I would agree with your criticism, but the article was clearly about people doing what I do now.

Whatever kind of music one considers, though, being part of making it is an improvement on passive consumption (which also has its place - we need audiences!) Seeing a Ring cycle is great: actually playing one is incomparable.

At 20 January, 2014 21:22, Blogger Graf Art said...

We are pleased to inform you that the second edition of the Festival "GRAF-Art" for amateur artists (music and painting) will take place in Gura Raului (Sibiu) Romania 10 to 20 August 2014.
Come and enjoy a real vacation in an artistic atmosphere in the picturesque surroundings of our old Carpathians.
You will find all the details on our website: www.graf-art.org
Could you pass this information to a greater number of people ?


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