Charm is the word of 2012

Catching up with the latest issue of the Monocle – February edition – and Andrew Tuck’s editorial draws attention to charm as the word for 2012: “Honesty, integrity, simplicity, durability, tactility are words that help all manner of firms thrive but oddly they never seem to make it past the door of a business school. That’s because these things can’t be taught; you have to genuinely possess those qualities” (p. 33, February issue). I found it rather charming that ‘or’ was used instead if ‘of’ in the sentences I’ve quoted above but that is another matter. This unteachable concept of charm Tuck proposes fascinates me as I wonder to what extent charm is important for the arts; to what extent is programming dictated by artistic concerns or the appeal (or charm) to the listener? I assume there is a healthy mix of the two, and selecting repertoire for concert performance surely must be governed by the musicians performing as much as the charm to the audience. After hearing/seeing so much music recently I wonder whether new music can possess ‘charm’; is charm that factor that is added through reception history? Do we need a body of successful reception – and perhaps even mass appropriation in terms of use of certain pieces in film and television – to establish the charm factor of a musical work? Can a brand new work on it’s first performance be charming?

I question the charm of placing musical works outside of the institution of the concert hall; question in a positive way and I am keen to see where such pub/club nights will go. Concert halls must surely be like books; the Kindle erodes the prevalence of paper based publication and perhaps YouTube, Spotify and others and have done much to disassociate music from it’s live production. Music has become a solitary pursuit, via the portable music player, and we create private musical experiences that perhaps make the appeal of live performance less so. I don’t have concert hall attendance figures to quote, and can see the uselessness of generalising about such an issue, but it fascinates me to think how different musical experiences are today. My first experience of hearing music in a pub didn’t feel anything different to that of the concert hall, only in that I could move. The ceremony of the musical work can be difficult for someone like me who fidgets! The audience were receptive, and attentive, and only the gentle clatter of pint glasses was heard over the Purcell works. The Roundhouse intrigues me, particularly with the programming of orchestras and ‘classical’ ensembles. I wonder how such ensembles work in a space that I’ve only attended once to see something non-classical.

The charm of amateur music making surely must be as strong as it was over one hundred years ago; though teenagers today might not be serenading their parents with “My mother bids I bind my hair” so much software and opportunities exist to legitimise all music making; composing is no longer something by a gifted individual but something we are all permitted to experience. Like any artistic endeavour there exists various levels of competency but somehow training seems superfluous to composition; we can study yet does this make us a ‘better’ composer? Not sure I can answer that. Mass production seems to favour the charm of those who perhaps do not possess a conventional musical training, and talent shows on television catapult the amateur to prominence within minutes. I’m not sure any of this matters, but it surely must have a negative effect on the charm of a musical training: why endure the rigours of practice and music college if you only need the right opportunity to be propelled into stardom?

Classic FM’s Hall of Fame could be the musical equivalent of the Monocle’s ‘Charm index’ for music: The public voting for musical works they consider to be the ‘greatest’. Is there anything recent there? I should score the massive list to see. Interestingly the British Composers’ Focus on BBC Four/BBC Radio 3 includes no living composer – apart from Sally Beamish. I wonder for me whether the charm of music has been lost through study; have I disassociated musical endeavour from an emotional response? I’m not sure I could claim I have, but I often feel my ears focus on the process more than the product, the narrative of lines rather than the effect. Does any of this even matter? The charm of an incoherent blog post on the charm of music was too alluring to avoid.

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