A month or so ago I described (prematurely, it transpires) my last visit for a while to a local music festival as roadie, chauffeur, audience member and all-round good egg harp-player supporter. I had, it seems, overlooked the Harrogate festival, another major venue for local amateur music enthusiasts in the Yorkshire region.
I say ‘overlooked’: if I’m being honest I had been told about it, but since the relevant conversation didn’t concern the magic words ‘art’, ‘art practice’ or ‘food shopping’, it failed to register in any meaningful way. Finding out at the last minute on a Sunday morning that you have to transport a harp around is however adequate punishment for failing to pay any attention to anything anyone says to you.
Off we therefore went to actively contribute to local culture.
You might think that local music competitions are all much the same, but you would be wrong. Harrogate, for example is a bastion of tradition and correctness. Announcements are made in very stern authoritative voices which would have terrified me as a child and actually make me tremble a bit even as an adult. I remember once many years ago passing the time waiting for adjudication with a sketchbook, and having an Official materialise sternly at my side to see what I was doing. I’d admitted I was guilty of frivolous drawing during the adjudicator’s comments before you could pluck a harp string.
I’m not against tradition really. I love finding connections with the past and like the idea of a continuing thread through generations of music lovers. The administrators yesterday had an Ancient Announcement Board with slots to insert cardboard strips indicating the competition class and the competitors’ numbers. I doubt most of us there would have lost track of the harp class or six competitors, but it was nice to see this antique serving its purpose as it had done for decades. The mystery was how it had survived. Inserting and removing the cardboard strips demanded a level of skill and determination sadly lacking in much of modern society.
But I do have a concern with the balance of tradition and modernity and how it affects participation and enjoyment of classical music by youngsters today. There is a discord between the enthusiasm shown by large numbers of children for taking part in local music festivals and the enthusiasm of young people for attending classical music concerts. Last weekend at the Town Hall concert I attended, the vast majority of the audience appeared to be over 60. Hardly any children there at all. I realise cost may be an issue, but music lessons, exams and competition entries don’t come cheap. Why invest in some parts of musical education and experience, and not all?
I suspect the absence of children may be more that they don’t really want to attend. They enjoy performing opportunities, but not so much sitting and listening. Or maybe it just feels like an old people’s world. Peopled by adjudicators and administrators and officials barking out instructions in the manner of a bygone age.
It’s a shame. I wonder who will run the world of local music in years to come? And who will be attending classical concerts?