Elitism in the Arts

Both the new Culture Secretary and Harriet Harman have had a recent pop at the Arts for being elitist, and particularly Classical Music. I have to admit as to finding this very disappointing indeed, and  it shows a complete misunderstanding of where the fault lies.

  I do not know a single musician who wishes the Classical Music industry to be elitist. We couldn't care who sat in our audiences as long as they come. Most musicians earn an appallingly small salary for doing a demanding, highly skilled activity which has famously antisocial hours. It is not uncommon for a musician to start early in the morning to get themselves to a concert venue hundreds of miles away from where they live for an afternoon rehearsal and evening concert, then drive themselves home afterwards and all for considerably less than £100 pounds. A Plumber would charge £100 for the callout. A Doctor would tell you to phone NHS 24/7 for the same amount, and a perhaps it's best not to say what a Banker might think. Musicians might have started out as being from middle class backgrounds, but their salaries make them very much working class. It's the same for artistic management, often understaffed, underfunded and undervalued.

At the same time that the government complains about elitism, it is taking away funding from instrumental tuition in schools. We have the ludicrous situation where a teacher whose primary instrument is the cello has to teach small groups of children how to play the violin in 25 minutes, filling out progression forms throughout. This almost certainly results in many able and talented kids not getting the attention they deserve, despite the best efforts of the teachers. Only through private lessons is a student likely to prosper to a competitive level, and as we know from research, our audiences consist of a high percentage of people who played an instrument to a reasonable standard at some point. If you want to diversify our audiences, then spend more money on inner city music provision.

Music speaks to everyone. There are no barriers to music. It's an international language which moves us in a way that often speech cannot. Its strength is in its unspecific and enigmatic nature. Music per se cannot be elitist any more than an apple is elitist.

Orchestras have already stepped into areas where school music services have been withdrawn. Orchestral education projects are much more prolific than they were 20 years ago, but often the legacy of these extraordinary events is not followed up by our state school system because there isn't the money or political will to support it. Remember, the Arts aren't a neutral issue for politicians; they're potentially a vote loser if you're seen to be too keen on them.


If you want to change the profile of our audiences, then you need to change the way that Classical Music is taught in schools.