Informing Audiences

This post is written by Katy Hamilton.

I hugely enjoyed the thrilling performances of the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year Final, aired earlier this month. But it was utterly baffling – to me at least – that almost nothing was said about the pieces we were hearing. This was a majority female composer line-up, in three non-standard concertos which even the conductor, Mark Wigglesworth, admitted were new to him. Yet we were given no information about the people who produced the music; or when the pieces were written; or even whether they were in more than one movement, to help the audience follow along as it listened.

As one of very few high-profile classical events still aired on a mainstream TV channel, this seemed like a missed opportunity. If those who infrequently (or indeed never) attend classical music events find them intimidating because they don’t feel as if they know the ‘rules’, shows of this kind provide a chance to offer some simple, demystifying facts and figures. As we re-emerge from a period of largely digital, screen-led musical performance into the ‘real world’, there is the potential to reach out to a much broader audience base for classical music by using the very technology (a voiceover to a livestream; a short supplementary film with information for first-timers; supporting web content) that we have had to embrace because of the global pandemic.

We have a chance to go beyond the standard models of learning and participation events (where activities, and also funding pots, are largely aimed at children) to encourage the curious but tentative non-attendee to give it a go. So what tactics should we be discussing? What formats, in-person or digital, could help to reach new listeners? And how do we find a way of balancing presentations to help people enough, without succumbing to information overload?

Katy Hamilton is a freelance researcher, writer, and presenter on music.

Going Online: Opportunities & Challenges

This post is written by Martin Cullingford.

Nobody wanted to have to address the challenges the past pandemic year posed classical music. Artists were unable to work – with a huge and devastating impact both artistically and financially – and audiences were unable to be participants through their presence in live music-making. But the desire – need – to address all these elements proved the spring of creativity as many ensembles and artists at first felt their way online, initially with home-grown events shared on social media, and later increasingly high-end and high-tech broadcasts.

This was going on before Covid, of course, but not on such a scale, and not driven to the same extent by artists as opposed to by organisations. But what was two years ago innovative and experimental, and one year ago became a means to still be an active musician in a locked-down world, is now a permanent part of the performance landscape. For just as a year of working from home will have a significant and sustained impact on the office environment, so too will a year of online concerts on musical life. Live music will of course return, but much of the benefits of streaming, having been recognised, will continue, and have already taken firm root.

Some examples: a major record label and an artists agency have established permanent online platforms for online concerts, ones which blend elements of recording and live events such as finite catch-up time for viewing and pay-per-attendance tickets. An online London vocal festival initially conceived to give choirs their first paid work in many months is now heading towards a fourth series, having made a substantial investment in technical infrastructure and having forged a returning global audience. An established festival which, unable to perform to live audiences, took their events digitally into care homes and prisons, and now sees this as something on which to build.

But an important question (and opportunity) with all this is not just how and whether online streaming can reach larger audiences, but whether it can reach new and different audiences too. Whether it just reaches existing classical music audiences by looking and feeling familiar, or whether it uses the moment to harness the accessibility and neutrality of the online environment and further push at the perceptions of classical music that so many live initiatives, from carparks in Peckham to nightclubs in Berlin, have successfully done in recent years.

And if it does, who pays for it? Initially, much of this online activity was free, but that can’t continue indefinitely – music-making of this quality costs, and audiences need to accept that and recognise that value. But once you charge for it, how do you continue to reach those new audiences so easily, and ensure online concert halls don’t find themselves with the same challenges that physical ones have in persuading new audiences to enter in and give them a try? Classical music has a huge opportunity here – but how does it avoid taking the problems of perception and access identified in the physical world, and simply reimposing them in the virtual one?

Martin Cullingford is Editor of Gramophone magazine.

Diversifying Repertoire & Instrumentation

This post is written by Doug Bott.

In the drive for greater diversity, ‘classical’ music itself must evolve. We can’t change the people and expect the music to stay the same.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays the cello. We already have loads of music for the cello, so we can book him for lots of concerts. But what if we want to book more disabled musicians such as Evelyn Glennie or Nicholas McCarthy? Compared to the cello, there’s not that much existing music for percussionists, or left-handed pianists. And what about talented young disabled musicians coming through the National Open Youth Orchestra playing electronic instruments such as the Linnstrument, Seaboard Rise or Clarion? Where’s their music?

One answer is to increase new commissions for a more diverse range of instruments and players. I believe we should do this, but this new music will only hit the same problem in future, when the diversity of musicians and instruments has changed again.

Ultimately, if ‘classical’ music is going to benefit from the injection of creativity that diversity can bring, we need to be more adaptable in approaching the music we play. This means not only commissioning more new music, but also being flexible about which instruments this new music is composed for, and more open to rearranging existing repertoire for different instruments and musicians.

I’m not proposing we throw the baby out with the bath water here – that orchestras stop performing faithful renditions of Beethoven and Mozart and switch entirely to a new, radical approach. But I think we can have ‘both, and…’. Beethoven and Mozart would have been excited by these opportunities, because they were innovators. They were at the forefront of experimenting with new instruments and repertoire in their time, and almost certainly would be now too, if they were still here.

Doug Bott is musical director of Open Up Music.

Inequality Talk

This post is written by Dr. Christina Scharff.

The underrepresentation of musicians from minority-ethnic and working-class backgrounds, as well as of women in certain instrument groups and positions of authority and prestige, has been documented in recent years. Along with this trend, discourse around the lack of diversity in the classical music profession has gained increased traction. In my provocation, I draw on qualitative in-depth interviews with female, early-career classical musicians to ask if, and if so in which ways, recent discourse around the lack of diversity in the classical music profession has affected how young musicians talk about inequalities in the field of classical music. My research demonstrates that the research participants were aware of ongoing inequalities and discussed them openly. This marks an important shift from previously conducted research, which highlighted the ‘unspeakability’ of inequalities in the classical music profession and the cultural and creative industries. Going further than this, my research also explores the rhetorical and ideological work that such ‘inequality talk’ performs, arguing that conversations about inequalities may not necessarily pave the way to political change. More specifically, inequality talk can become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end (such as political change); a fatalist sentiment can characterise discussions of inequalities, presenting structural change as unachievable; and acknowledgement and recognition of privilege, crucial to overcoming inequalities, is not a consistent feature of inequality talk, which in turn risks reinforcing the normativity of whiteness and middle-classness in the field of classical music. Overall, my research provides a detailed analysis of empirical data to caution against overly optimistic accounts of the shift towards a more open discussion of inequalities in the classical music profession and beyond.

Dr. Christina Scharff is Reader in Gender, Media and Culture at King’s College London.

Reaching Potential Audiences

This post is written by Marius Carboni.

To pursue wider audiences of classical music, musicians and organisations need to take ‘perception’ into account. Perception means lots of things: image, appearance, an individual’s interpretation or understanding – ultimately how the general media portray our sector of the business.

Whatever the music (product or service) the first question is who is my target consumer or buyer? Once established, the second is how to reach them so they know about your product/service, followed by how to persuade them into using/buying that product or service. The wish to grow your market is applicable to any commercial enterprise and targeted media is needed. In music, traditionally, a pop band releases an album, ties in a tour at the same time, devises a promotional strategy a few weeks before release, creating a media build up. The classical music genre needs to follow the same pattern, but easier said than done; its repertoire and the forces required will dictate a much longer planning period (such as for a symphonic or choral work). Combined with that is the wish for classical music to reach a bigger audience, a marketing challenge. Budget limits mean not all areas of the potential market can be reached in the first phase. A wider consumer base requires a detailed social media plan whilst the traditional classical consumer is at the older end of the market where offline media is often more applicable.

I often reflect on the image the OAE used in their 2012-2013 South Bank Centre season, pictured below. It encapsulates brilliantly what I imagine every musician or organisation wants to be perceived by, a cross-section of society, a representation we all applaud. And with it goes an investment in a range of digital and non-digital media tools.

Eleanor Shaw defines marketing strategy as ‘an organisational approach that is organised around the consumer, with a keen focus on identifying customer needs, wants and demands and matching these to features and benefits of the products contained within an organisation’s portfolio.’ (Shaw 2012:321). How well do we as classical musicians manage this process, bearing in mind the constraints indicated above?

Marius Carboni is Lecturer in Music Business, Entrepreneurship and Marketing, SAE Institute and Morley College, London

Classical Music and Middle-Class Respectability

This post is written by Dr. Anna Bull.

As I have argued in my book Class, Control, and Classical Music, as well as more recent work (Bull, 2021), one of the ways in which classical music indexes a valued identity is by signifying middle-class respectability for women. Beverley Skeggs theorises the concept of respectability in her ethnographic study of working-class women in the north of England. [1]. ‘Respectability’ refers to ways that these working-class women would dress, act, and speak in order to avoid being stigmatised as working-class, and therefore as worthless. Simply put, for the women in her study, respectability was a signifier of not being working-class. There is an historical lineage to this concept, from the nineteenth century. As Nead’s study of the discourse of art in nineteenth century England describes, ‘class coherence [for the middle class] was established through the formation of shared notions of morality and respectability’.[2] Within such notions of morality, a woman’s ‘sexual identity determined whether or not she was seen as a respectable and responsible member of society’.[3] Respectability is therefore a way in which the value or worth of women in relation to their class position is read through their perceived sexuality. Respectability is also a racialised identity, as can be illustrated through outlining its links with British imperialism.[4]

I have argued that historical and contemporary associations and representations of the identity of ‘classical musician’ in the UK signify ‘respectability’. Both in classical music’s iconography and in classical musicians’ modes of dress – both everyday and formal concert wear –a style associated with respectability (for young women) or elitism (for young men) can be seen, for example in the recent final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year awards.

This concept contributes towards explaining the inequalities of participation in classical music. Young people self-select into learning genres of music associated with an identity that fits their social position. In other words, young people will invest in learning kinds of music where there is a social scene that they fit into or feel comfortable in, where they gain social approval, and where they can cultivate an expressive voice they value.[5] For middle-class girls and young women, a ‘respectable’ identity is seen as valuable, and therefore learning classical music is an acceptable, even an obvious pathway. Similarly, Mari Yoshihara has also pointed out the ongoing associations of classical music proficiency with being a ‘good girl’ and a ‘virtuous young woman’.[6] At the same time, this classed, raced and gendered identity associated with classical music makes it a less attractive option for working-class children and young people, as well as those from some minoritized racial groups (both male and female).

Focusing on the ‘respectability’ performed in the dress and demeanour of classical musicians – and their representations in the media – makes visible the values and identities that are normalised within classical music education and practice. By drawing on an historical understanding of respectability that foregrounds the role of white women’s embodied sexual propriety as upholding wider standards of morality, the whiteness of the ‘nice girl’ playing classical music becomes visible. This fits with findings from wider studies of the engagement of racialised minorities with classical music.[7] The racialised, classed and gendered legacy of classical music – visible in its iconography and classical musicians’ ‘style’ – shapes the ways in which it is encountered by Black middle-class people, East Asian classical musicians, and other racialised groups who are minoritised in the UK. [8]

Adapted from: Bull, A., 2021. La « respectabilité » et la musique classique. Étudier les intersections de classe, de genre et de race pour comprendre les inégalités dans les formations musicales. Agone 65, 43–64.

English language version available to download here:

Bull, A. 2021. ‘Respectability’ and classical music: Examining the intersections of class, gender and race to understand inequalities in musical training. Agone 65, 43-64.


[1] Beverley Skeggs, Formations of Class & Gender: Becoming Respectable, London: SAGE, 1997, p. 47.

[2] Lynda Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988, p.5.

[3] Nead, p.6.

[4] Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest, New York: Routledge, 1995, p. 15.

[5] See further discussions of this issue in literature on music education and young people’s identities, such as David J. Hargreaves and Nigel A. Marshall, ‘Developing Identities in Music Education’, Music Education Research 5, no. 3 (November 2003): 263–73,; Alexandra Lamont et al., ‘Young People’s Music in and out of School’, British Journal of Music Education 20, no. 03 (2003): 229–41,

[6] Mari Yoshihara. Musicians from a Different Shore, Philadelphia: Temple University Press (2008). p.106.

[7] Meghji, ‘Encoding and Decoding Black and White Cultural Capitals’; Vincent et al., ‘Raising Middle-Class Black Children’.

[8] Yoshihara, Musicians from a Different Shore; Mina Yang, ‘East Meets West in the Concert Hall: Asians and Classical Music in the Century of Imperialism, Post-Colonialism, and Multiculturalism’, Asian Music 38, no. 1 (13 June 2007): 1–30,

Dr. Anna Bull is Senior Lecturer in sociology at the University of Portsmouth.

The Problem of the Composer Anniversary

This post is written by Dr. Sharanya Murali.

What is the effect that ‘anniversary’ programming has on representational politics, both in the classical music industry and on the repertoires developed by them? Scholarship has established that the canonicity of western classical music has been constructed over centuries, through violent discursive acts of erasure of Black and Global Majority composers and repertoires, to appear white and is not in itself naturally representative of whiteness. One of the key ways in which white canonicity is upheld and continually re-inscribed, I suggest, is through the politics of anniversary programming, which establishes the hegemony of white European composers, creating and participating in a cycle of demand for the same. Perpetuated, thus, are notions of virtuosity and accomplishment that impact the demographic make-up of orchestras.

The Beethoven 250 celebrations—known as such both in the eponymous social media hashtag and in British seasonal programming at the Southbank Centre, the Barbican and the Wigmore Hall, for instance—are remarkable because they have occurred through and alongside, at least in part, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and in the UK; a racial justice movement that demands, materially, the end of white supremacist violence on Black communities, and represents the centring of Black experience and joy.[1]

During times of political reimagination, such as Black Lives Matter, cultural practices like anniversary programming perpetuate dominant racial anxieties—and classical music histories—by relying on the narrative of ‘universalism’ of western classical music, eliding structural and genealogical concerns about representation, and indeed, overlooking opportunities to canonise instead the harmonies of those systematically overlooked.


[1] In an attempt to memorialise Black violinist Elijah McClain, who died at the hands of police violence in August 2019, musicians gathered to play their violins in Aurora, Colorado, only to have the vigil interrupted by pepper sprays, used by police in riot gear (Evelyn 2020).

Dr. Sharanya Murali is Lecturer in Theatre at Brunel University London.

Staging Music via Biography

This post is written by Dr. Michael Pinchbeck.

I am a writer, director and theatre-maker concerned with staging scores and finding ways to transpose musical composition into dramaturgical strategy in performance. A question that drove my recent work on The Ravel Trilogy (Bolero, Concerto, Solo) was: how do we ‘biograph-ize’ a piece of music? Each performance is inspired by a piece of Maurice Ravel’s music, and aims to perform its tempo, mood and atmosphere by mirroring its structure and content. Put simply, the script follows the score; the musical dynamics are stage directions.

At the same time, the work considers the (auto)-biographical context behind the making of the music, how Ravel wrote it, who he wrote it for, and who played it or performed to it. This methodological approach has led to a particular hybrid of verbatim theatre, ‘composed theatre’ (Rebstock and Roesner) and ‘orchestral theatre’ (Curtin) and seeks to engage both audiences of classical music and theatre-goers in what might be termed an ‘immersive concert’. Working with orchestras, concert pianists and a classically-trained violinist has also enabled us to explore the virtuosic technicality and formal aesthetics of classical music, whilst at the same time inviting the audience to sit in the orchestra or hold the instruments.

The provocation I am arriving at here is this. As Arts Council England shifts its agenda from excellence to relevance, and emphasis is on organisations to seek new audiences and new modes of engagement (e.g., immersive experiences, concerts-in-the-round, Proms on catch-up, or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying Rod Stewart at the Brit Awards) then: How do we ensure that classical music remains relevant and resonant with new generations? How do we breakdown potential barriers to accessing both the form and its historical representation? How might ‘biographizing’ music and/or its composers be a strategy to do so?

Dr. Michael Pinchbeck is Reader in Theatre at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is also a theatre-maker.

Call for Articles: Special Collection of the Open Library of Humanities

Representing Classical Music in the Twenty-First Century

Questions concerning representation are currently at the forefront of public and scholarly debate about classical music. What, and whom, does classical music represent in the twenty-first century? How is it represented in the arts and media? How does representation operate in the classical music industry?

There have been many forward-thinking initiatives in recent years that have cultivated new audiences, diversified programming and ensembles, and experimented with new performance formats and technologies. And yet, perceptions of elitism and archaism in classical music persist (encouraged, perhaps, by the word ‘classical’). Representations in the arts and media help to shape ideas about classical music among its devotees and, more broadly, in the popular imagination, although these representations may not be accurate. To what extent are artistic and media representations of classical music helping or hindering efforts to change industry practices?

This special collection of the Open Library of Humanities will consider contemporary artistic and media representation of classical music (e.g., plays and films depicting classical musicians) as well as representation in the classical music industry. The latter includes representation of classical musicians by agents and record companies; musicians’ self-representations (e.g., on social media); and the demographics of the classical music profession vis-à-vis gender, class, (dis)ability, and ethnicity. Contributors are welcome to focus on one or more aspects of representation. Articles that combine consideration of representation of classical music in the arts or media with consideration of representation in the classical music sector are especially welcome.

Research articles should be approximately 8000 words in length, including references and a short bibliography. Submissions should include:

• Abstract (250 words)

• Full-length article (8000 words)

• Author information (short biographical statement of 200 words)

The deadline for abstract submission is April 15, 2020. Authors of accepted abstracts should submit their articles by October 30, 2020.

The special collection, edited by Dr. Adrian Curtin (University of Exeter) and Dr. Adam Whittaker (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire), is to be published in the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) (ISSN 2056-6700). The OLH is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded open-access journal with a strong emphasis on quality peer review and a prestigious academic steering board. Unlike some open-access publications, the OLH has no author-facing charges and is instead financially supported by an international consortium of libraries.

Submissions should be made online at in accordance with the author guidelines and clearly marking the entry as “Representing Classical Music in the Twenty-First Century,” SPECIAL COLLECTION. Submissions will then undergo a double-blind peer-review process. Authors will be notified of the outcome as soon as reports are received. To learn more about the Open Library of Humanities please visit:

Update, May 2020: The deadline has now passed and we are no longer accepting submissions of abstracts. 

Symposium: Representation in/of Classical Music

The final network event will be held at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on April 4, 2020. The morning session will involve discussions among network participants. The afternoon session, which will be open to the public, will feature a keynote by Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, a rehearsed reading of a work-in-progress play entitled Black Mozart, White Chevalier by Dzifa Benson, and a concluding roundtable discussion on the network’s main topics of investigation.

Participants will include:

UPDATE: This event had to be cancelled because of Covid-19. If we are able to reschedule this event, or something like it, in 2021, we will.