Jonathan Irons on the precarious world of performing arts and the need for change.
I feel quite privileged. I've worked with music my whole life and managed to pay the bills.
But the pandemic is shining a very bright light on the precarious nature of the arts world, and more importantly, it's shining a very bright light on those who are responsible for spending public money.
A few things have come to my attention:
1. With the exception of a very tiny tip, the vast majority of musicians live on a very modest income. Those who squeeze into that tip have no incentive to change the situation for everyone else. Most people who are not acquainted with musical activities have a vastly inflated idea of what musicians earn.
2. There is no political discourse that values the arts in the United Kingdom. They are still seen as the cliché-ridden ballerinas (as if ballerinas are a bad thing), reserved for the few. I believe that most politicians vaguely know what really goes on, but there is no narrative on either side of the benches to discuss that reality.
3. Many people still believe in a government of "Good chaps" [sic] who fundamentally have the interests of the population at heart. Time after time they are proved wrong, and time after time they vote for the same people (on both sides). The narratives of music being "dangerous" and "unskilled" are evidence of this. The destructive effects of the pandemic coupled with inaction by the government are of no consequence to those in power. They will always have access to "entertainment". They will be the last to suffer.
4. Alexei Sayle spoke of a brief period in the 20th century when access to education was free for everyone. He called it an experiment that would never be repeated. I believe the same is true of universal music education. The evidence for music education is so overwhelming that it's confusing that it shouldn't be offered to everyone. The only cynical conclusion is that those controlling public money don't want everyone to thrive. There is a viciousness to this that I will never understand, as the best practice in other countries is clear. It can only be put down to spite, and I'm afraid I'm not young enough any more to pretend that it isn't.
I have never been a performing musician. I've worked in publishing, online distribution and online marketing.
So why do I care about MAX?
Probably because I've had it so good. And because I don't want to see creative energy wasted. And because I have a lot of friends who are active performers.
I think – as we have discussed many times – our "market" is unfair, badly organised, old-fashioned, discriminating and – in parts – boring. So much is done because it has been done before.
I believe we have a responsibility to raise our voices and call for change and improvement, for accessibility and fairness. But not for some touchy-feely reason or because it's "good". I think if we make these changes we will actually profit from it culturally. For example, I want to see more female composers performed, not because I want a Blue-Peter Badge for it, but because I'm curious and want to have a more diverse offering. People talk about the Blairist idea of "choice", but ironically deny themselves most of that choice.
In this light, I wholeheartedly support the changes that MAX is demanding and will continue to work towards seeing them become reality.