Tony Hall made some terrible music announcements yesterday. They come hot on the heels of some terrible arts announcements he made a few months ago. Among the most lousy is the proposal to set up a music awards ceremony – because we don’t have enough of those.
The suggestion is that the ceremony would become a rival to the BRIT Awards, with a focus on younger musicians and better music, which in principle sounds good until you realise it’ll be the BBC deciding the music and the musicians. He also hopes to ‘surprise audiences’ with ‘unexpected performances’. To do that he’s gone and bagged the BBC Concert Orchestra! I know! Exciting, eh, to know that Britain’s least respected orchestra will be involved in this celebration of great music.
The other announcements sound much more virtuous, but in fact stink just as much as the awards ceremony once you scratch beneath the surface. The most headline-grabbing, hand-wringing one is the education initiative. The BBC is coming to the rescue of classical music (not sure why classical music rather than jazz – an equally dwindling but important musical genre – but anyway) and have made up a list of ten classical works that they want every kid to know.
The list is understandably populist and greatest-hitsy. No problem with that. But why does the BBC have to spearhead the rescue effort? There’s a very successful, very popular commercial radio station, Classic FM, that virtually only plays the ten works the BBC have picked 24 hours a day. All the BBC need to do is teach kids how to turn on a radio. Instead, in classic BBC fashion, they’re using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and going into school, cinemas and concert halls to showcase these works by enlisting the help of several ‘ambassadors’.
The problems do not end there. As I have written before, it’s not right or good that arts institutions are increasingly being asked to educate our children. Most have no idea how to do it. Not well enough. The BBC perhaps is better placed than most. But the major risk of getting outsiders to provide music education is that the schools come to rely on it. They will begin to expect their music education to be outsourced to the BBC and others. Which cannot happen. Arts organizations are squeezed as it is. For them to have to take on an educator’s role is unfair.
Well-intentioned though it is, Tony Hall’s initiative will risk precipitating further cuts to music education. The BBC really needs to start thinking through its policies and maybe cutting down on the really terrible ones.