Culture House Daily

The BBC’s music strategy is a shambles

17 June 2014

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.

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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.

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Show comments
  • poran

    he one that decries homosexuals as abominations, or the one that says that love is the greatest thing wherever it can be found?
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  • Len Groat

    Surely it’s TIME the government stepped-in, reduce budgets, and very swiftly CLOSE

    1 Xtra
    6 Music
    and 5Live

    and then clear out the over-paid BBC managers who foisted these on the country with NO remit!

  • disqus_4KLgi5nhCO

    WHOA – BBC CO as the least respected British Orchestra? Steady on. I’ve heard some seriously useless orchestras in Britain that deserve a mention far quicker than the Concert Orchestra.

  • IainRMuir

    “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”

    Classical music’s origin is almost exclusively European, and therefore it should be a higher priority in my opinion. Jazz isn’t, and it’s origins are younger.

    Many Americans regard Jazz as their classical music.

  • Alexsandr

    who is to say pachlebel’s canon trumps Allegri;s Miserere
    or the 1812 trumps Saen Sans Organ Symphony
    or Parry;s I Was Glad trumps the Hallelujah Chorus
    its all so subjecive.

    • Alison

      Sounds like a good game, start printing the cards now.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Why does the BBC have to spearhead the rescue effort? Simple: it is the Leviathan. The BBC must be everywhere, into everything, be involved in every national or local discussion about anything. The world’s largest media organization cannot control itself. Hall wants to do this because they at the BBC believe they know best. About everything.

    • Alison

      You are right, but still the BBC used to be good didn’t it? I remember the old radio 3 very fondly, BBC schools programmes were good, even when I was teaching my children at home there were still a few, and Singing Together was marvellous, it is making me cry just to think of Singing Together and how much I loved it. Radio 7, now 4 extra used to have loads of good children’s fiction on the Big Toe Radio Show. True the presenters were the usual children’s telly sort of silly idiots, but I heard hundreds of good books along with my children. It can get back on track, I am sure. Somehow it just needs to set much higher standards for itself.

      • The Masked Marvel

        Lots of things used to be good. That doesn’t mean they should be tolerated now that they’re awful. They’re bringing back that godawful Bob Mortimer/Vic Reeves show not because audience ratings were any good, but because the BBC controllers love them. They’re making programming to suit themselves, not you.

        The BBC cannot hope to return to any semblance of its former glory so long as it remains in its current bloated, greedy, other-directed state.

        • Alison

          I think you might be right about the BBC generally, but I am not so pessimistic about radio, I think it could be improved quite easily if there was a will. I don’t like to think they have lost the will entirely to make a decent go of things.

          • The Masked Marvel

            There are still a few people at the BBC who would like to make a decent go of things. But they are in the minority, and do not have control. Why does the BBC need to do so much pop music that is easily available to the public via other outlets? Why does the BBC need to do so many left-wing comedy panel shows? Why does the BBC need so many radio channels?

            • RobertC

              ” left-wing comedy” That’s the only sort in existence, isn’t it?

              Oh! There is ISIHAC, but only because it is an antidote to panel games.

            • Alison

              They don’t, all that could be ditched easily, and those childish, un-funny, alternative comedians could be left to fend for themselves. But thinking about comedy do you remember Weekending? I remember laughing hysterically at it in the1980’s, but I wonder if it was really just as poor and left wing as The Now Show. I am pretty certain that The News Quizz was actually quite clever and funny 15 years ago. I was only in my teens in the 1980’s so I can’t trust my memory or tell if I am just turning into a grumpy old bag.

  • MikeF

    Classic FM actually has a ‘playlist’ of a couple of hundred or so works. Tony Hall’s priority for classical music should be the restitution of Radio 3 as a serious arts station rather than the farrago a lot of it has become. But before any of that his priority should have been a thoroughgoing assault on the BBC’s nepotism and bias – most obviously by making all senior appointments subject to competitive interview. The fact that that has not happened increasingly supports the impression that the whole organisation has institutionalised itself to the point where the DG is a figurehead and not a leader.

    • monty61

      Radio 3 remains a bastion of good taste compared to Radio 4 … think of the PM programme with its cheesy beat-ridden R2-style trailers and idiotic back-chat from Eddie Mair and the like.

      • MikeF

        The presenters on Radio 3 are often – weekday mornings especially – no better. The station is OK when they shut up and the music starts.

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