Sunday, December 02, 2007

Late Starters

I'm sitting in a church in Bethnal Green, and there's a hubbub all around me, people in coloured jumpers scurrying around with violins and cellos, people sitting in pews who move around a lot, because, it eventually dawns on me, they're dashing out to play in their bit then coming to sit with their family and friends. It's definitely not like most concerts I go to.

I've been playing the cello for over 30 years now, and composing nearly as long, so I ought to have some sort of handle on how this music lark works by now. But not everyone is as lucky as I was as a kid to have access to the wherewithal to pursue it, and the way music education is going there'll be even fewer in the future, so organisations like the East London Late Starters Orchestra are doing something very valuable. The idea is that people who've never had the opportunity to learn an instrument, or perhaps learned as a child then abandoned it for years, can have the opportunity to pick one up and have a go.

It's not really about the result (although of course all involved want to play the best they can), but about the act of getting up and doing it, I think; some of the players I hear had never touched an instrument until a couple of months ago, and to stand up and perform in public after that short a time takes a huge amount of guts, much more than I have certainly. And it also makes a statement that classical music isn't something obscure or difficult, to be the preserve of a few, but something that anyone can have in their life, if they want it.

There's such a strong vested interest in the music industry from professional bodies, record companies and the like that wants to promote music as a product to be passively consumed. This is so wrong. Music is an activity, something to be participated in, something to do, and it's this idea that really makes projects such as this important, not worrying about the "excellence" that ministers like to talk up (translation: leave it to the professionals, sit back, consume, buy, buy, don't think, BUY) but revelling in the act of creating it. Music's a social force, and that's what I bring away more than anything from this evening. There's little division between performers and audience; there's a unity of community, a joy and pleasure in the gathering together and the sharing of a moment.


C said...

As you are a classically trained musician (and composer), I wonder what your response might be at the suggestion that music as an activity, "something to be participated in", also extends to DJ's and their vinyl?

[ps. i like your blog, btw. i somehow stumbled upon it, although i don't remember from where. cheers from NYC!]

petemaskreplica said...

Oh, absolutely. I think there's something brilliantly subversive about taking a record, which is something designed to turn music into a product to be passively absorbed, and by scratching it or mixing it or sequencing it to turn it into a tool of creativity. Same with sampling. Of course there are shit DJs same as there are shit composers. The potential for creativity doesn't mean anyone doing it is doing something good. I sympathise with Puff Daddy, or Diddy or Ken Doddy or whatever he's calling himself these days, for his loss, but him mumbling sentimental guff about his dead mate over a Police backing track isn't very interesting. But that doesn't stop sampling/mixing being something with hugely creative potential, and those who say it's just nicking other people's work are missing the point entirely. All creative work builds on what past artists have done, and to my mind using a breakbeat from an old James Brown record is just as valid a tool as JS Bach rewriting bits of Vivaldi.