Saturday, 7 September 2013

Roger Wright on the BBC Proms audience

The real Last Night of the Proms is the "real" last night of the season, before the party starts, so to speak. The BBC Proms are the World's Biggest Street Party, heard all over the world, by anyone who has an internet connection or radio reception.

Governments think that they can bomb people to smithereens in the name of "peace", prolonging conflicts from which no-one benefits but arms dealers. The BBC, however, does infinitely more for world peace than bombs and guns. It brings people together on common ground. We admire Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra for what it symbolizes, but the BBC Proms have been doing much the same thing on an infinitely larger scale for years. My mother came to UK as a destitute refugee from a camp in 1945. At the Last Night of the Proms, she stood in the arena, weeping with joy. I asked her later, how could she support the British, given what was happening. But she was overwhelmed by the idea of renewal, "Land of Hope and Glory" was more than music for her (she didn't know it as a song). It symbolized faith in the idea of peace, and in the genuine brotherhood of men (and women). If the Government had any sense it would realize that the BBC does far more for British prestige in real terms than warmongers will ever understand. The Proms Ideal is a heritage we should cherish.

And so, on the night, traditionally reserved for Beethoven's Ninth and the message " Alle Menschen werden Brüder," Roger Wright spoke of the international coverage the BBC Proms enjoy. More people listen online or on the radio, or in repeat broadcasts, than can ever possibly fit into the Royal Albert Hall on the night of performance. The BBC Proms are not a series of concerts but a mass communal participation the like of which the world has never seen. Not even the Pope gets this kind of cover. The BBC Proms bring together all kinds of people, including a vast audience who hardly know what classical music is. So why, I thought, doesn't the BBC address that audience and support them  properly?

Through the Proms, the BBC has access to the biggest potential audience for classical music that's ever been possible before. Why not build on those inroads and generate even more interest and follo- up after the season. People can still listen after the Proms season is over. The BBC should be thinking of creating new channels of communication, not reverting to the idea that the Proms are one-off "concerts". I've written about the lack of programme notes online, Read here, and read the comments especially, because there is an issue that the BBC response doesn't address. If the broadcast audience is important, why restrict programme notes to those who buy them on site? Crazy logic. Although I think most programme notes are a waste of time, millions of people value the context they can give. They desrve something to give them context. Can it possibly be too difficult to do something sensible? (read the BBC response to the commenter who complained). Just as the print media is going the way of the dinosaur, printed programme notes serve little purpose other than to sell advertising. The beancounters in the BBC may say nay, but we should support Roger Wright in his support of the broadcast Proms audience.

Roger Wright also spoke of new ways in which the media could reach the wider audience. If the BBC can "educate, entertain and inform"! (in whatever order) surely so should the media? Look how new reporting has changed with new technology. Ordinary people with webcams can capture things others can't get, and anyone can tweet events as they happen live. Everyone in this world has a unique perspective. The sheer volume of opinion is overwhelming and much of it is more white noise than substance. But that's where true journalistic skill comes in. Investigative journalists analyze and ask the kind of questions that make their readers think beyond the immediate story.

Should we be re-thinking music journalism in the same way? The Beckmesser Slate School of Music writing will always be with us, because Beckmessers outnumber Sachses. In the news media, most readers don't want anything other than confirmation of their own prejudices. That's why scandal  and gossip is always more popular than real thought..Our whole educational system these days seems to predicate on short-term measures of success. What if the real purpose of education is to get people to think more deeply ? Music is a part of human experience. It can't be divorced from life or from the influences that shape the way we respond. Every time we hear a performance, even on a recording where nothing changes, we are bringing something new to the experience. Unless we are machines, we respond  in many different, individual ways.

I wish there was a way of writing about music that helps readers think, and explore for themselves what a piece of music means to them, enhancing their own personal experience. Instant guides to music are stupid, because they're often done on the assumption that knowledge is finite. Much better to have thought-provoking pieces that stimulate the reader to explore for themselves, like Ivan Hewett's refreshing series in the Telegraph (read more here). I'd much rather read music writing that has been processed by a thinking and feeling human being than by a drone. I started this site because I wanted to share how performances affect me. The very process of writing is discipline because it gives focus. The more ideas, the more you learn, and the more the experience is enriched. So I go off on tangents like writing about painting and Dorset when inspired by Holst's  Egdon Heath and Lutoslawski. We're all on a journey through life. Music makes us human.

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