Amazing: with just two days to go, nobody’s slagged off the jingoism of the Last Night of the Proms yet, unless I missed something while I was away in Amsterdam (for pics of my trip see Facebook). The news that David Attenborough will be making his debut playing the floor polisher in Malcolm Arnold’s Hoffnung-inspired ‘A Grand, Grand Overture’ is probably the best pre-emptive strike ever invented against offslagging. This crazy piece involves an all-star vacuum-cleaner quartet and can have the same darling-little-England Ealing Comedy effect as that ukelele orchestra the other week, with knobs on (literally). I’d been planning to do a bit of it myself (offslagging, not playing the floor polisher…). ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ indeed – with the country in its current state? You gotta be joking.
But there’s more good news around than I’d expected. On one hand, Elgar, if he were alive today, wouldn’t be too pleased to see that the UK’s social mobility is back where it used to be in his lifetime. He was born in a tiny cottage in the middle of a field and ended his life as an Order of Merit, but he had an over-long struggle to get there, against snobbery, anti-Catholic feeling, pro-Oxbridge old boys’ clubs, the need to be essentially self-taught as a musician from a poor background, and all the rest.
On the other hand, he might applaud one initiative we haven’t heard enough about: apparently we are about to start a National Year of Music. Of course, it’s got to be justified by the now well-established fact that music lessons improve kids’ memories, help to civilise them and are not widespread enough for those whose daddies don’t run a bank. But it’s better than nothing.
Actually there are a number of fine initiatives around aiming to bring music to youngsters – the Sing Up campaign, In Harmony inspired by El Sistema, and more. But these projects, though large and nationwide, haven’t in general found countrywide recognition – they don’t shine out in the media as they probably could and should. Whatever does Venezuela have that we don’t?
Their activities tend to be very diverse, spreading through many genres in many places – it can be difficult to find the focus with which to put everything across. Therefore the media doesn’t see them, or music education in general, as a terrifically sexy topic.
Gustavo Dudamel is Venezuela’s not very secret weapon. The public image of music education in Britain could be transformed by a Dudamel, if only we had one: a sexy young dynamic conductor possessed of musical genius, limitless charisma and a sky’s-the-limit outlook to be pictured on every front page, prime-time news bulletin and concert hall poster in the country. With such a figurehead as a focal point to bring everything together, there’s be a better chance for the message to get through.
At least they’re trying. And I don’t have to attend the Last Night of the Proms anyway – I shall be up a mountain somewhere near Salzburg. I hope you all enjoy the Hoovers.