I think today’s post wins the prize for the longest ever title. It also represents a use of ‘found language’. Yes, GofaDM is now handling stolen words in an attempt to generate some much needed ‘edge’. The victim of my lexical crime may be revealed later in this post or you may have to pry that particular secret from my cold, dead hands.
While I will admit this post is all about its title, I shall be attempting to add some intellectual heft (or roughly 1000 words, as others might call it) to the whole enterprise by considering the topic of barriers to entry. This is quite a broad topic, so I shall focus my gaze – using a series of purely metaphorical lenses (which fortunately do not suffer from either spherical or chromatic aberration) – onto the narrow field of what keeps people away from the fun that culture can offer and in particular the idea that it is “not for me”.
I have largely found my own way to the broad range of cultural activities which now dominate my life. As I frequently find myself an outlier in the audiences of which I am a part, I suspect that I am willfully going to things that are not for me – but, as yet, no-one has tried to stop me. I think broadly I don’t really care for whom any piece of culture was made – if indeed its maker actually knows or is qualified to decide – but work on the principle that if I enjoy myself or gain something from the experience than I am a valid audience. Even if something turns out not to be my ‘cup of tea’, I will at least have had an experience (which is what you get when you don’t get what you want) and either an anecdote or material for a post.
For live culture, I will admit that the people I’ve seen on the stage (whether real or imagined) are like me, i.e. they have generally been between the ages of 15 and 95 and human (though I have seen the occasional dog and, once, two piglets!). They have come from a wide variety of countries, enjoyed the full range of skin tones, had a range disabilities and have certainly covered a reasonably broad portion of the gender spectrum – though I will admit that statistically rather more will have been from privileged, white cis-gendered backgrounds than is true of the planet as a whole. A lot of this will be path-dependent, a lot of culture was originally made in the even less enlightened past and occurs in institutions that are products of the past: and we are all, ourselves, products of the past. A lot will also be down to economics, an issue which seems to be growing both more acute and chronic. However, I suspect a lot of culture is made by and for the people that are expected to comprise its audience – as this seems to be a viable way to stay in (show) business. This seems to offer an opportunity for us – the audience and especially the potential audience – to affect our culture and its institutions. Our feet – and more importantly our buttocks (and their presence or otherwise on seats) – will affect the economics of cultural events and venues and if there is a market for something, eventually the Arts sector will notice and start to try and satisfy it. If you leave the audience to people like me, the world will tend to produce stuff I like or think I might like – which is a fairly broad church, but will still leave a terribly culturally impoverished society. I’m not really into hip-hop, for example, though I think I might be starting to weaken in some areas: I have caught myself enjoying it in public spaces so it may go the way of olives, Sibelius and jazz before it.
Well, that last paragraph certainly went in a direction I wasn’t planning: still, ‘better out than in’ as I often say. It was supposed to be moving us all gently towards my unwillingness to dress up to go events, but instead I have been forced to use this horribly clunk segue. Except in very extreme circumstances – once a decade sort of territory – I will not go to any event that requires me to dress up. I am expected to wear a suit for work – though would drop that convention instantly if it were socially acceptable – so prefer not to do so for leisure. Many years ago I learned, I think via the television (possibly not a documentary), that Italians only wear black shoes at funerals and basically haven’t worn black shoes since: I have also been very careful never to fact check Italian footwear conventions. Indeed, there are very few events to which I will not wear trainers. I do have some standards as to when and where I will wear shorts or a sleeveless top, but otherwise dress to suit myself. Many years ago, I was offered a loan jacket and tie at the Hotel Bristol in Vienna but I have yet to be turned away from anything but the dodgiest of night clubs. I lack to imagine that I am passing as an eccentric millionaire, but it is probably just that no-one much cares.
I have noticed that performers tend to dress up for classical music, though am pleased to see far fewer bow ties (terribly impractical for violin or viola) and a lot more trousers on stage. I suspect this will cause some blustering from military Blimps in Kentish spa towns, but as long as their disgust remains safely between the sheets of the Daily Telegraph it need not detain the rest of us. I can see some value to the whole band wearing black (or similar) as it reduces visual distraction but given that even quite sizeable jazz ensembles seem to get away dressed casually (and sometimes in ‘gardening casual’) I think audiences would quickly get use to a more demotic dress code in even the largest orchestras.
Congratulations anyone who has stuck it out this far, we have finally made it to the actual subject matter which launched today’s post. I think taking 1000 words to reach the point is a record even for me! One of the things that put me off jazz for many years was the feeling that it was a terribly po-faced endeavour carried out be very serious men. I am a terrible, but frivolous, man and I’m not sure where this idea originated – but it was firmly held. I wonder if it had more to do with the audience that the performers? Whatever its provenance, the last couple of Sunday’s at the SMJC have firmly disabused me of this notion. The Baker Brothers – plus friends, to make a septet – celebration of the not quite 40th birthday of the SMJC’s éminence grise was a joyous riot of jazz and funk. Last Sunday’s gig with the Matthew Read Trio also contained a lot more laughs than the younger me would ever have guessed possible – or appropriate – at a jazz gig.
I bought the latest CD from the MRT, which was appropriately named Anecdotes II. Every song was introduced with an anecdote which purported to explain its inception, but any links were tangential or fully surreal with tunes inspired by a Guardian Sudoku and a breed of hen (go Burford Browns!) among others. It was the trio’s eponymous leader who provided our title and I can’t help feeling that this kind of strapline would attract a lot more young people to take up his instrument. As well as being a lot of fun, the trio – and especially the guitarist – were wonderfully relaxed. His movement along the fretboard never seemed even remotely hurried and yet has relaxed fingers were always where they needed to be. I fear this is a long way off for the author, but my fingers are starting to land the right chord shapes in the right place a bit more often – so there is hope. I shall resist his use of the capo at fret 10 or (as a joke) 12 for a while longer yet.
If this post has a moral, and let’s all hope that it doesn’t, it must be that we all need to become the audience we want to see! Also, you can mostly dress how you like and go to anything and you’ll probably get away with it: ignore the tutting (I use headphones).