Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dumbing down...hmmm...

As I sat on the tube home on Thursday evening, flicking through one of the free evening papers, I came across the small column that invites readers to email in responses to the question of the day. The question of that day was 'Should Goldie be at the Proms?'

Two respondents replied positively, but one replied vehemently in the negative. Her argument (in as much as she could make one in the bite sized emails that are printed) was that drum and bass has no place at the proms and that it was 'dumbing down'.

As I understood the situation, Goldie's composition is in fact a non-drum-and-bass orchestral piece and so there won't be any drum and bass at the proms at all, whether out of place or otherwise (maybe there should be - another discussion for another time and something we may come back to quite soon in fact in relation to our forthcoming concerts). In any event, need the two be mutually exclusive? One of the many things that Goldie is noted for is his use of strings and influence of symphonic textures and structures; that he cites Górecki as the composer that got him into classical music is not entirely surprising when you listen to tracks like Timeless, Mother etc. Given that the work in question is not D&B I can only assume this respondent wrote 'drum and bass has no place at the proms' but in fact meant 'drum and bass musicians have no place at the proms'.

Surely it is possible for musicians to work in more than one genre? Surely musicians, and in fact anyone, can enjoy more than one genre ? (I know I do). The implication here seems to be that because Goldie has had a career in D&B we are free to make assumptions about the quality of his work and his ability to write in different styles - I haven't heard the piece yet so I wouldn't write it off purely on the basis that it is written by someone who comes from a different musical background.

The more worrying element is the need to associate certain types of music with certain societal groupings. We're all aware of the stereotypes. They do still exist (see Tom Service's article that we discussed here recently) and they seem to be being perpetuated. However, I work for an orchestra while my friend DJs on a hip-hop radio station. When people see us in the street together they don't stop and stare at what an odd couple we make (maybe because we actually look, dress & speak relatively similarly). But then our musical backgrounds are almost identical, from playing in the same youth orchestras to going to the same club nights.

We spend quite some time here asking 'how can we get audiences to classical concerts and engage people in classical music?'. We'll have a tough job when 'outsiders' are continually being pushed away and rejected. In Goldie's own words ''Drum and bass has always been a misunderstood genre. It has always put outsiders off. Unless you're a specialist, you think it's not for you. And classical is the same."

And what is dumbing down anyway? (that's not a rhetorical question - I would love to know people's different thoughts!) I'm not sure I actually have a set definition. I think I know it when I see it. Where is the line between making accessible and dumbing down?

Timeless is a 21 minute 3-part work. Mother is a 1 hour long work for 30 piece orchestra. It has had many accusations levelled at it: pretentious, self-indulgent, overly ambitious, pointless because nobody has that attention span...I don't think dumbing down is one of them though.

I've read at least one article that claims Mother could even be described as contemporary classical music (the veracity of which is another long discussion in itself). If that is true, then I wonder whether in some quarters there might be a further period-based-hierarchy within classical music.

To end on a positive note, I will look forward to hearing Goldie's new work and here's to the many things we are doing to try and break down some of the barriers mentioned!

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