This week I hosted an event called Music into Words which explored the wide variety of writing about classical music today – from concert and opera reviews to academic writing, programme notes, blogging and even fiction writing which has a focus on music.
The original impetus for the event came from a BBC Radio Three Music Matters programme, aired in 2014, which debated the future of music criticism in the age of the internet. I and several other music bloggers felt the programme was unfairly skewed towards mainstream print journalism with very little positive focus on the valuable contribution of bloggers and online reviewers. As a consequence, I and a couple of other music bloggers decided to present an alternative view. When I first proposed a live event, at which people would speak and the audience could participate in a Q&A/discussion session, I had really no idea how it would work. In a way, I felt I had tossed a handful of balls into the air, not knowing where they might land. What I did know, however, was that the other people who expressed an interest in organising such an event (all of whom I met via Twitter) were all passionate about what they do – all bloggers who write about music, and all come at the subject from a different angle. We shared a desire to “explain” why blogging has a purpose while throwing the debate open for as wide a discussion as possible. In fact, the popularity of the live event (it sold out several weeks in advance of the date) and online discussions via Twitter and our respective blogs, demonstrated that there is a great interest in this subject and a keen willingness by people to engage in conversation about it.
Writing about classical music is, like the music itself, often considered elitist, exclusive, the preserve of the expert or academic, couched in obscure terminology, and generally unwilling to engage with “ordinary people” (whoever they may be). I hope that the live event, which took place on 2 February 2016 at Senate House, UCL, London went some way to demystifying writing about classical music, while also explaining for the uninitiated what blogging is all about and why bloggers have an important role in writing today (and not just in the field of classical music, by the way).
Three speakers talked about their role as bloggers/writers on music and the wider role of writing as a means of engaging with readers, audiences, potential audiences, musicians and more. It was also very interesting to have the views of Imogen Tilden, classical music editor at The Guardian. She explained that budgetary restraints meant that not everything could be covered and that as editor she had to be very selective about what concerts and operas are reviewed. Because of this, she felt bloggers and online reviewers have a role in “filling the gaps”.
The lively discussion raised a number of interesting points, including:
- How to find “good” blogs online when there is so much material out there on the internet
- Musical terminology and why it is important that it should not be dumbed down
- Writing negative reviews
- How to encourage more musicians and others in the classical music industry to use social media
- Self-editing one’s writing
- How social media can shape and drive more voices on/interest in classical music
Based on the success of this first event, others are planned and we are very much open to suggestions as to how we might shape future events.
Follow Music into Words on Twitter @musintowords
Meanwhile, you can view the talks by Simon Brackenborough, Mary Nguyen and Jessica Duchen here:
A compilation of tweets about the event
Summaries of the event by the speakers:
Inspired by this first Music into Words event, I am hosting and speaking at a related event in the autumn. Writing the Piano will feature contributions by acclaimed pianist, teacher and writer Graham Fitch, pianist, teacher and blogger Andrew Eales and myself, and will explore different ways of writing about the piano, the instrument, playing and its literature. The event is on 18th October 2016 at the 1901 Arts Club, London SE1. Further details to be released shortly.
(Photo by Christian Hoskins. L to R: Jessica Duchen, Frances Wilson (The Cross-Eyed Pianist), Mary Nguyen, Imogen Tilden of The Guardian)