Why I’m deleting your unsolicited e-mail

Dear Unsolicited PR Supplicant,

Thank you for your email. Let me explain why I am going to delete it straight away:

1. You say you write to ‘influential bloggers such as yourself.’ Whilst I am fairly certain this is wilful flattery, you make no mention of exactly what it is that I write, or for whom, nor do you reference anything in particular that I have written that inspired you to get in touch. Ergo, I am pretty sure you have copied and pasted this same text to hundreds of other bloggers, and you have no idea who I am excepting that I am a result in your Googled List of Music Blogs.

2. You don’t even have the courtesy to send me a copy of the product you wish me to review; instead, there are several hyperlinks in the email which I am invited to click. I have no idea where these links are going to, and I don’t intend to find out.

3. You make no mention of a fee for my service. Music criticism and reviewing is, like most things, a profession; writers are paid for their writing. The products and articles I have written are part of my job, for which I am therefore paid. You wouldn’t go over to a roofer working down the road, and say “Excuse me, I like what you’re doing on the roof of no.42; can I ask you to do the same for me ? For free ?” Or perhaps you would. No matter.

4. Not only do you not offer a fee, you further exhort me, if I like what I see/hear/read, to book the band for gigs / buy tickets for the performance / purchase the product directly from a website. This only adds insult to injury; you’re not only asking me to provide a professional service for free, but inviting me part with my cash in addition.

5. Your product may just be the most exciting combination of Skunk Jazz Meets Cutting-Edge Morris Dancing Techniques, but if I haven’t already written about the genre it occupies or other, similar products, it’s either a) because I have others about which to write and I’ll get to yours after all of those, or b) it’s not my field and I am unlikely therefore to need or want to write about it. And if it isn’t my field, before I were to write about it, I would need to research and listen extensively around it, in order to be able to review it with some insight or authority. And you are not offering to pay for that time, either.

So, I will take great delight in deleting your e-mail. I hope you find this feedback useful and instructive, and I do not expect to hear from you again.

Yours faithfully.


Shock revelation: music article contains 90% horseshit

In a shocking moment of revelation, it has been shown that a piece of music journalism contains approximately 90% horseshit.

Investigations into a recent article by Norman Lebrecht have proved conclusively that much of what passed for factual information in the writing was in fact actually horseshit.

20130210-141033.jpgIt is widely expected that investigations being conducted into other articles, not just those by Lebrecht, will reveal the widespread use of horseshit in music journalism, whereby reputable music critics have been contaminating their product with groundless supposition, specious arguments and pure horseshit. The additional use of tripe and bollocks is also suspected.

“It’s a bad time for horse-based product contamination across the country,” admitted an entirely fictional government spokesman in a pretend interview, “and consumers are losing confidence in products they thought they could trust.”

The culture of music criticism is holding its breath in anticipation of further revelations.

Will becoming an Academy mean the death of music in schools ?

Talking to a Music specialist primary school teacher recently, it transpires that, from today, the school at which they teach is becoming an ‘academy.’ What this means in real terms for music provision at the school, is that the school will now have to pay for all the instruments it uses, which previously it had borrowed from its local music advisory service.

shockedNow, at a rough cost of £30 per instrument (such as a cornet or violin – other ‘instruments’ like the ocarina or recorder are in a bundle-package), for a class of thirty children, that’s £900 per year simply to hire them. The school will receive a one-off lump sum as part of its move to academy-status, but with close to £1,000 per year to hire instruments, that’s not going to last long. And with other areas in school – IT provision, real estate up-keep, resources – all clamouring for funding, using funds to hire musical instruments is not going to be high on the list of priorities. (And I appreciate that it’s unlikely that a school will require an entire class-full of cornets or violins – breaking them up across the numbers required throughout the school, though, yields an approximate number).

It seems counter-productive, nay, let’s pull no punches here, totally stupid, that developing a school’s status should in fact lead to its no longer being able to deliver a part of its curriculum.

As of today, therefore, all the instruments will be being boxed up in order to return to the county music service. The opportunity for young children to access instruments to start to learn will be lost, as will the Wider Opportunities aspect to curriculum delivery. The school could, of course,  pass on the cost of instrument hire to the parents,  but with many of them low-income families, with priorities of their own, that’s not going to help.

I wonder if other primary-turned-academy schools are in a similar situation.

Musicians, painters, money and the Olympics

Further to my post a while ago about the offensive expectation that musicians should get up and perform for free (which can be read here), the culture of expecting hard-working instrumentalists and singers to give of their time, skills and abilities for nothing continues with the London Olympics.

A photo posted on BandPage’s Facebook page appears to show a letter in what looks like the London Metro, in which a professor of Jazz at Trinity College of Music protests at the idea that ”performers should be be delighted to showcase their talents at the Olympics for no money.’

Metro letterIt’s that dangerous word, ‘showcase;’ it’s often used by cheap-skate promoters and organisers to encourage people who would otherwise expect to be paid for their time and services to give them for free, under the dubious misapprehension that the exposure thereby atained will lead to an increase in bookings, and hence revenue.

This is bull. When you see someone being ‘showcased,’ it often means they are either a) naively believing the cheap-skate event organiser who told them it was good publicity, or b) that they aren’t actually all that good in the first place, otherwise they would be performing somewhere else and be getting paid to do so.

The idea of being ‘showcased’ as being advantageous to the performer is disingenuous. If you don’t want to pay them, tell them you either can’t or you won’t; don’t try to fool them into believing you are offering them a useful platform as a means of widening their publicity.

As I’ve observed before, you don’t expect painters, plasteres and decorators to decorate your house for free; why expect a musician similarly to give of their services without payment ?

I’d like to see the original article, to which the letter was written in response. Another photo, someone ?

Temper, temper Mr Nyman

Dear me, Mr Nyman. Calm yourself down.

It has been reported in the Telegraph recently and elsewhere that Nyman has recently thrown his toys out of the pram on being told the Covent Garden will not be commissioning an opera from him. In petulant style, Nyman is reported as having ranted on Facebook about not wishing to pay his taxes to a nation that does not wish to support his work.

As a composer-colleague of mine observed on Wednesday, Covent Garden are turning composers down a lot of the time, and why should Nyman be any different ? Simply because Nyman is already an established and successful composer doesn’t mean that a major national opera house should take work from him by default. Covent Garden declared that Nyman’s musical language ‘is not what we want to pursue in our next commissions,’ before adding that this is not a dismissal of Nyman as a composer.

It does seem appropriate that British musical institutions support home-grown composers; and Covent Garden do so – earlier this year saw the premiere of Judith Weir’s Miss Fortune, and last year it was Turnage’s Anna Nicole, whilst the Linbury has in recent years housed Luke Bedford and James Macmillan premieres. So he can’t throw that at them.

Whatever your views about Nyman’s music, it does seem rather childish to adopt an ” I’m British, therefore British opera houses should commission me” attitude, which rather smacks of childish temper-tantrums. Especially when your shouting and stamping can be heard all the way from your home in Mexico City.

Come along, Michael; other composers have been disappointed too. Just get on with it.

Listener views: keep them out of radio programmes

I find myself becoming more and more disillusioned with Radio 3’s efforts to involve members of its listenership in its programmes. Tuning in has become something of a trial, whereby you risk running the gauntlet of listeners’ e-mails interrupting the programmed pieces of music. Now we’re bombarded by broadcasters reading out e-mails from listeners, offering their views on the greatest moment in classical music, their experience of an opera, or why they have fond memories of particular works.

This is of no interest to me whatsoever. Neither is my interest in classical music  going to be heightened by the supposed excitement of a Classical Chart Countdown, or competing with other listeners over ‘What is your favourite String Trio of All Time ?’


Image: Phasesofme.com

I’m not interested either in someone else’s fondness for individual pieces of music; what is it to me that Brian Bootlace of Snivelston loves Gounod’s Ave Maria because it reminds him of taking tea and biscuits on a walking holiday in Weston-Super-Mare ? The individual reaction to a piece of music is intensely private, a distillation of memory, personal experience and musical perception. it won’t be helped by hearing another’s reasons for liking it; in fact, the reactions of others can often be intrusive and interfere with your own hearing.

The author Jilly Cooper speaks in a recent article about keeping the listeners away. I agree. (I never thought I’d be agreeing with Jilly Cooper). A platform like Twitter offers the opportunity for dialogue with consumers, with audiences and listeners; it gives the illusion of personal dialogue, albeit one conducted over the internet where anyone following your ‘tweets’ can follow the conversation. It’s something that Twitter does well, but it has no place scheduled into radio programmes generally. Listeners have every right to correspond with broadcasters, to e-mail their views in to breakfast programmes, but I don’t tune in to the radio to hear them. I want to hear the music, not what someone else thinks about them. For that, I’ll go to the discussion boards or Twitter.

Any minute now, someone will rap on the screen and start muttering about ‘ownership’ and ‘participation.’ Arts organisations, particularly in the current budget-tightening era, need to reach out to their consumers, to involve them more and make them feel a part of their cultural provision – mainly in order to keep them coming to events and buying the tickets. But bringing this directly into on-air consumption by other listeners interferes with the music – the reason people tune in to begin with.

Keep listeners’ views out of the programmes, and let us enjoy the music for ourselves.

Even the professionals have to practise…

I was reassured last week when listening to the broadcast of Graham Fitkin’s Cello Concerto, premiered at this year’s Proms, at the words of the radio presenter, Martin Handley. In the hushed moments between the audience applause which greeted the arrival of the orchestra’s leader and the eventual arrival onto the stage of the soloist, Yo-Yo Ma, Handley mentioned that there would be a slight delay as Ma’s music had only just been brought out on to the stage for him to play from in the performance – apparently, Ma had been practicing ”right up until the last minute.”

Yo-Yo Ma

Image: Royal Albert Hall website

There’s often a misconception that musicians, especially internationally-renowned soloists, simply pitch up to the gig on the day, have a quick run-through with their accompanist (or with the orchestra), and then rattle the piece off before collecting their fee and going away again. There’s a lovely and funny moment in one of Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’ novels where Jennings goes for a piano lesson, and enthuses about playing a new piece: ” I’ll soon be able to rattle it off, shan’t I, sir ?” says the exuberant pupil, blissfully unaware of the hours of practice that lie ahead if he wants to do just that – ‘rattle it off.’

Handley’s words reminded me that even top-flight players put in the hours of dedicated practice, particularly with the challenge of contemporary music. The thought that even someone of Ma’s colossal abilities and experience needs to work on a piece of music right up until the very moments before the concert reassures me, both that musicians do earn their keep (however lavishly or poorly they might be paid, often the latter), and also that listeners are occasionally reminded of this fact. In the white-heat of giving the world premiere of a brand new piece of music, even the pros are working fiercely to give of their very best. Bravo.

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