Classical music. “But isn’t it just for old people?” they ask. And when I say “they,” I mean the random people I’ve met throughout my 27 years who can’t fathom that this woman who adamantly learned all the words to Eminem songs in her teens and who can’t sing without shamelessly imitating Britney Spears can also have a deep love and respect for the world of classical music.
I will say, however, that I was very lucky. I had two amazing parents who, from the age of four, had me playing the piano, sent me off to music school on Saturdays and when I turned 14, sent me up to London on Saturdays to Junior Trinity College of Music in Greenwich to pursue the three other instruments that I’d picked up along the way in addition to the piano — trumpet, violin and organ. With three grade 8s and a grade 7 under my belt (no mean feat!), I then studied music at the University of York, worked for the London Symphony Orchestra for four years, and now here I am, The Orchard’s “classical specialist” (which yes, does make me cringe). You can say that I have been surrounded by classical music since day dot.
But for many people, classical music is a door that was never opened. It was recorder classes in year 1; it was a GCSE that you took just for a laugh because you could write a jingle for an advert with your mates; and now it’s the overplayed Einaudi piece which has been featured on so much television that even the most unmusical person could probably sit at a piano and bash it out. This is a problem. What does this mean for the future of classical music? There have been times when the future of classical music has looked pretty bleak. With the government cutting funding for music lessons in schools and private music lessons increasing in cost, entry points into classical music are becoming even fewer and further between.
So it’s down to us in the classical music industry to open our doors and create visible and accessible opportunities for everyone who might be interested. To rid ourselves of this “only for old and rich people” stigma. To remind everyone, and ourselves, that classical music started off as the music of the people, born out of the working classes.
The BPI Classical Committee has recently appointed a small PR group which has come up with loads of new and innovative ideas to encourage younger audiences to engage with classical music, to promote the continuing relevance of classical music, and to enhance the genre’s long-term culture and commercial prospects. A few ideas that particularly jumped out at me were the idea to engage with contemporary rock, pop and urban artists who trained classically and/or are inspired by it, and a call for more opportunities where modern music and classical music can meet and merge. A great example is this BBC Grime Prom from 2013, where Chip, Krept & Konan, Stormzy and Wretch 32 (among others) performed with the Metropole Orkest, blending and remixing classical and urban styles together. Lastly, an idea to create a Horrible Histories series based on classical composers had me quite excited — Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner were all absolutely characters in their own way and I can just imagine the passion and intrigue into classical music that such a series would ignite in our young children today.
It’s an exciting but turbulent time for music in general. The fact that music funding is being cut in schools, that concerts are getting more expensive, that music venues and night clubs are being shut down affects all of us across genres. Perhaps it’s not just classical music that should be more accessible, but music education and performance opportunities in general. We all work with leading figures in the music industry and so we have a responsibility to think of new and exciting ways to draw young people out from behind their screens, educate them, and get them to engage and interact with music on a personal level so that the future of music, be it classical, grime or Britney Spears (!) is something that they genuinely care about — shall we say music for the “young people.”