You don’t have to be young to be brilliant

This is the fifth of Lady Eff’s Rants which are being broadcast as part of the Classics From Scratch programme on Secklow Sounds, an online radio station which  brings people and communities together. Classics From Scratch is presented by Catherine Rose and is broadcast at 2 pm on Thursdays. It is available to listen online a few days later.

There seems to be a perception that unless you are writing symphonies or playing concertos in public at the age of nine, you’re not really worthy of being called a classical musician. It’s true there have been many ‘child prodigies’ over the centuries and they continue to pop up from time to time. But the general run of classical musicians are just like sportspeople – they show a bit of interest and talent at a young-ish age, they get trained up and by young adulthood their talent is beginning to show. Some are even what you might call ‘late developers’. The problem comes when people think that if you weren’t a child prodigy, you can’t possibly have any talent.

The converse is also sometimes a problem – you can be writing symphonies and playing concertos at the age of nine, and by the time you’re 34 it’s perfectly clear that whatever talent you possessed was a bit shallow and you haven’t got much to say. An early display of technical ability is not an infallible indicator of deep musical understanding.

Increasingly these days, classical musicians are being marketed on what they look like, rather than what they sound like. A soloist who can drape herself over a cello in a suitably sultry manner, or a tenor who can smoulder at the camera with soulful sex-appeal is going to get more opportunities, whether or not their talent is worthy of it. A musician friend of mine is actually losing work because he’s middle-aged and balding – now sessions are full of slim, Timotei-haired young females who’ll look good on the publicity, and even better in the video – preferably in the sort of figure-hugging, slit-to-the-thigh dresses that wouldn’t suit my friend at all.

Developing a classical career takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication and a pretty good wodge of honest-to-goodness ability, but you should be able to close your eyes – literally – to what a musician looks like, and open your ears to what they’re trying to convey through their playing.

Click here to hear some music on YouTube, not from a child prodigy, but from the sister of one: FannyMendelssohn-Hensel’s Piano Trio in D minor op 11, Finale.

The episode of ‘Classics from Scratch’ in which this rant appears can now be heard through the Secklow Sounds website by clicking here. From next Friday (31st May 2013) you will be able to hear it on Spreaker by clicking here.

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Published in: on May 24, 2013 at 11:50  Leave a Comment  

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