Should the Classical music world become more image-conscious?
Are we too concerned about image these days? Politicians are routinely accused of caring more about image than Policy. Instagram and social media are forever being blamed for causing teenagers low self-esteem and problems with their body image. The general consensus is that all this fretting over image is not a positive development. But there’s one sphere of life in the UK that I think could actually do with becoming more, not less image-conscious: Classical music.
Not a year goes by without reports of the existential struggles of the Classical world. Cuts to annual funding from Arts Council England are always rearing their ugly head, and every year orchestras and concert halls are pushed to the brink of survival. Personally, I think what’s needed is to send in an image consultant.
I’m now in my mid-thirties and I grew up listening to almost every sort of music except for Classical. As my interest in the genre has developed, one of the things I’ve struggled with most is the image the music has. I know that might sound pathetically shallow, but it’s true. It’s really not easy to listen to something refined and sophisticated and then realise that every last one of the performers look like they are members of the school chess club. It doesn’t matter that the concert halls are architectural marvels and that the works are all masterpieces because as a tribe, Classical musicians are about as aesthetically appealing as train spotters.
I don’t think my perspective here is unique. If you mention Classical music to most people, including those who are reasonably cultured and well-educated, the first thing that will probably come into their heads is some sweaty loon of a conductor getting in a tizz on the rostrum as he constantly fights to keep his frizzy hair out of his eyes. Either that or they’ll picture ranks of violinists in thick glasses and clip-on bowties who look like they’re off to some sort of crossword convention....
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