Beat Beethoven – Fundraising and Running for Sport Relief

This Friday 13 March, I’ll be heading down to Salford Quays to do a charity 5k with a bit of a difference.

In Beat Beethoven, runners need to complete the 5k course in less time than it will take the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which they’ll be doing live in the studio at MediaCityUK (and broadcasting it live on Radio 3). A quick google through some existing Beethoven 5 recordings suggests that the average time is around 33-35 minutes, so while I run 5k quite often, this will need to be a little speedier than normal!

Beat Beethoven is in aid of Sport Relief, an event which raises money to help vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. The larger part of my run entry is already going towards the charity, but I wanted to set up a Justgiving page to try a get a little bit extra donated, if anyone would like to donate. You can find my JustGiving page here.

You can also find out more about Beat Beethoven (and join in via the Radio 3 broadcast – even if you can’t be at MediaCityUK, you can do your own personal run) here.

p081sjgd

Image BBC Radio 3

The Arts and Brexit – Meeting MEPs at the European Parliament

IMG_1255

Outside the Hemicycle building at the European Parliament (8.30am in the morning)

Today is the first day of meeting MEPs in the European Parliament, along with various political activists from the North West, and a number of Manchester Metropolitan University students. As an arts professional, I have a lot of concerns for the creative industries and it’s reliance on free movement around Europe to produce the world-class art, music and and culture that brings in a great deal of money (£10.8 billion in 2019) to the UK economy. You can read more about some of the ongoing issues and questions for the industry in my previous post here.

Morning Meeting with Green MEPS

Firstly, we met with UK South West Green MEP Molly Scott Cato and and Swedish Green MEP Per Gahrton.

Molly spoke about being ‘in the middle of a grieving process’ as well as angry at the direction that the country has taken. She has been working on behalf of the EU to look into tax evasion, and building sustainable finance – passing those reports onto various governments. She mentioned that while no-one is irreplaceable, she is heartbroken not to be continuing to use her skills in these areas, especially with the issues now facing businesses in the UK. For example,  working outVAT is now a huge problem for small businesses.

When asked about what she thought would happen next, Molly said she felt that Brexit would have to ‘play out in its worst fashion’ to dispel any lingering myths about the EU and its supposed disadvantages. She also mentioned her concerns about the media, whom she felt had failed to report on important political victories and legislation that UK MEPs had achieved.

Per, however, seemed more optimistic and spoke about the long history of cooperation between the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Ireland.

There wasn’t much discussion of the free movement issue, although on the end of Molly’s speech I did raise a question of how they would go on trying to inspire young people through the issues of political uncertainty and the climate emergency. Though there are many young people throughout the UK and Europe getting involved in politics and activism, the fact is that a very large proportion of 18-25s simply don’t vote, and many of those are in communities which may feel the worst effects of the Brexit fallout.

Finally, when asked by activists on what they felt MEPs and pre-European citizens could do next, she stressed the importance of informal channels to build close relationships. Meanwhile, former MEPs would still have certain privileges such as entry to the EU parliament and certain events which would allow them to help British citizens in ways such as continuing to visit Parliament.

Meeting with Jane Brophy

Early in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet North West Liberal Democrat MEP Jane Brophy for a short catch-up, so I was able to talk to her, as well as a number of activists from Liverpool for Europe and Manchester for Europe, about the importance of continued free movement in the EU for the arts. We discussed how that will translate into documentation and issues at the border for artists travelling – especially when the onus is on artists to prove their professional credentials as the requirements may be too high for newer and emerging artists. Jane said that the EU is seeking reassurances on EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens in the EU, but no-one yet knows what the situation at borders will be like in the future – it certainly won’t be resolved in the next ten months.

Meeting with Theresa Griffin

NW Labour MEP Theresa Griffin definitely already understood the issues involved in the arts in the future, and was very sympathetic to the issues that I raised, as well as free movement for other industries such as healthcare. She spoke about the need to build pre-European grassroots movements, and also about how many MEPs from other countries have been really supportive, and are very glad to see pro-European Brits coming over to experience the European Parliament.

Meeting with Julie Ward

NW Labour MEP Julie Ward actually comes from an arts background, in particular working in outreach and with young people. She really understands the need for arts and culture to bring people together, to teach understanding, tolerances and good, positive citizenship, in particular finding ways for young people to carry on visiting other countries, learning from them and collaborating with them. She suggested that arts and cultural organisations in the UK should be making the effort to mark European culture in positive ways, such as Europe Day in May, or European Languages Day in September – creating events and initiatives which will carry on benefitting people both in the UK and abroad.

Overall, I feel like this turned out to be a positive day. All of the UK MEPs that we spoke to were clearly very despondent about current events, but seemed buoyed up by the support they have had from other countries. For my part, I’m glad I was able use this opportunity to speak about a very important part of the UK’s economy and society which isn’t being given due consideration by the UK government, and even if my words don’t have any individual effect, they might contribute to a greater whole.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be meeting a German MEP, Terry Reintke, and hopefully I’ll be able to get her perspective on the EU Parliament’s view around continuing free movement. I’ll do another blog post after the meeting, and some more details on my overall experience of seeing European Union politics in action.

IMG_1260

This sculpture is supposed to represent how the European Union works – each part leans on and is held up by another, and if one part moves, the whole structure would move.

Visiting the European Parliament – the arts and Brexit

Something quite different to recent posts! But this is an incredible opportunity and something very important to me on a personal and professional level.

Over the next few days, I will be visiting the European Parliament along with a number of university students, and various pro-Europe activists from around the North West. We will be given the opportunity to meet with a number of MEPs both from the UK, and from neighbouring countries, about how they see the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.

As an arts professional, I have deep concerns about how the UK Government is handling provisions for the arts and cultural sector in a post-Brexit world. Many feel that these concerns are a long way down the priorities list, and while central government is undoubtedly under a great deal of stress and a very tight (though self-imposed) timescale to nail down even the most basic elements of a trade deal, we are talking about an industry that was worth £10.8billion a year to the UK economy in 2019, providing around 363,700 jobs (More details in this Arts Council report.) 

One of the most pressing issues is around free movement for artists, performers and other professionals in the industry. This is something that many people have already written about in great depth, and I’ve linked quite a few of those articles below.

Touring abroad is an important source of income, experience and recognition for all kinds of artist. Even the Beatles got their professional start honing their skills in Berlin dance clubs, and since then UK bands, small theatre companies and performers of all stripes have been able to take advantage of the ease of travel around Europe. A no-deal Brexit will end that completely. Even Brexit with a deal could cause real problems. Smaller artists have written about the problems of touring – for example, coaches and minibuses may only be able to run with an ‘international operator licences’ which are available only to licensed bus and coach operators, not individuals, vastly increasing the cost of DIY touring. The huge amount of paperwork involved, much of which will need professional help such as customs agents to unpick and complete, will make European tours unsustainable. (See ‘No-deal Brexit may make touring Europe ‘unviable’ for UK artists’ for more details and insights on this.)

Frankly, the performing arts in the UK already have an increasing class-based issue – it’s a career path often open only those with financially supportive families or other incomes. Brexit can only make this worse, because that path to the continent, with the opportunity to collaborate with and study other cultures, build international contacts, experience and fanbases, will become much harder for those without ways to finance it, for a younger and just-starting-out artists who will need it most.

I spent quite a few years working in the classical music world, specifically around symphony orchestra. British symphony orchestras are highly regarded around the world, but due to a shortage of UK talent, orchestras have recruited from across Europe and beyond to fill their ranks with musicians skilled enough to maintain their reputation for excellence.

The UK government has already recognised this, as orchestral leaders, principal and subprincipal roles are on the skills shortage list, meaning that certain requirements and rules are waived when recruiting from non-EEA countries. 

Of course, we would all like to see more homegrown talent in UK orchestras, but for that, the UK will need to commit a lot more funding and resources to music education, something that does not appear forthcoming under the current administration. Even if this funding did exist, it would take time to develop that talent, time during which orchestras would still need to recruit overseas simply to continue to exist. The CBSO’s Chief Executive Stephen Maddock has written a great article about this and other issues facing touring orchestras in ‘Post-Brexit Britten? The CBSO’s guide to touring.’

The Association of British Orchestra’s report on the impact of Brexit to it’s members was published in April 2018, and posed many questions about uncertainty around touring and recruitment, which as of January 2020 have yet to be answered by the UK government. One very important point that it raises is how the UK also maintains an international reputation for excellence in teaching music and drama at a high education level. Many EU arts students travel to the UK for study, and many stay on for work.

The UK government website is deeply unhelpful around these issues, you can find the article here.

So, there is a pressing need for the UK to maintain a close relationship with the EU to ensure that our creative industries continue to thrive – that UK citizens be be free to visit, study and work in the EU, and European citizens have the same rights However, it doesn’t feel like our current UK government sees this as a high priority. So we come to this week’s meetings. I hope that I can impress on MEPs just how the current state of the arts in the UK benefits the EU, as well as the reverse, and see how they can find a way forward, for us and for them. I’ll take plenty of notes on my visit, and update this blog as soon as possible.

16582050707_cd6b4be5c4_c

Image: European Parliament Plenary Chamber. by ‘diamond geezer’. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Original on Flickr.

#Blaugust – A New Direction

So, once upon a time, I used to write music, some of which ended up on my Soundcloud account here. I studied  composing, recording, post production, experimental audio coding etc. over several years, and have entire hard drives full of effects and samples. But somewhere down the line, I stopped. So I’d like to start again.

(This was an undergraduate track. The inspiration for this was Japanese Gagaku, James Clavell novels and a lot of artsy self-importance. I’m still proud of it, but I’ll be aiming for something a bit more easy-listening now.)

My friend Yoni (his Soundcloud is here) did a challenge a few years ago where he was putting out new new composition every month, and I think I’d like to do the same. It’s been a long time since I’ve used Cubase, or tried to compose anything, but I’ve been listening to various electronic/ambient playlists on Spotify and YouTube lately, and I know I used to be able to write music as good as any of the stuff that I’ve heard. Plus, when I move into my new apartment, I have some plans for the office space – getting my keyboard, guitars and microphones set up permanently and putting together a little recording studio space – or at least, that’s the dream!

So, after a brief panic in which I couldn’t find my Cubase USB authenticator, I’m getting started with some new synths, and starting to find my way around again. Restarting with Cubase is definitely worth a few more Blaugust posts, too.

playtime

Blogpril April 5th- now with more music

So I squandered the time that I should have been blogging listening to a lot of old favourite songs, which actually turned out to be no bad thing. With the rise of music streaming services, especially Spotify’s carefully curated playlists, which I have praised in the part and still think are a great idea to some degree, I’ve realised that at some point music became just background noise to me, rather than an actual emotional force. Since I’m now working for a musical organisation (as of this week) I’ve decided that won’t do at all. 

As a result I spent quite a bit of this evening deliberately picking out songs and pieces of music that I love/have loved and giving them a proper headphones on/eyes closed listening to. Some of them brought back strong and unexpected memories, which is something mood music playlists (though they absolutely have their place) can’t really do for me. I’ve resurrected my old MP3 player too, which will be travelling with me from now on, and I’ll be seeking out some new music from artists I already like, and trying to make some new emotional memories rather than treating music as part of the acoustic furniture.

A Quick Blaugust Day 11 – Doing Reviews

I’m out this evening at a new Opera ‘Thousand Furs‘ at The Anthony Burgess Foundation, so I wanted to put down a few words quickly over lunchtime as it’s likely I won’t get the chance to write much tonight.

I’m going to be reviewing Thousand Furs for the blog of the organisation that I work for, which I something I’ve come to enjoy doing. For a while, I also ran a theatre blog – anonymously in case I ever wanted to go work for someone whose work I’ve slated! – and found it a really interesting experience.

One of the hardest things about reviewing is trying to ‘be fair’. Sometimes I want to rave about a show, then I have to think, is there anything that someone else might not enjoy, that I ought to highlight? Likewise, if I didn’t enjoy a show, I need to pin down exactly what I didn’t like about it, and separate any positive points.

Of course, it’s probably not a good idea to totally balance every review that I write, or else everything ends up sounding just plain average, with so many good bits and so many bad bits. Plus, it doesn’t always make good reading – I do get a certain amount of evil enjoyment out of reading a poor review, particularly from a critic who knows how to do a slick put-down (This Telegraph review of Eric Whiteacre’s Prom is pretty masterful, and completely deserved, I’d told.) Equally it’s nice to be uplifted by reading about a show that’s gone really really well.

Sadly this is all the writing I’ve got time for right now – I’ve got some longer ideas lined up for the rest of this week, unless something topical comes up, and then I might be doing a post on how Blaugust has gone so far.

The Value of Music – Blaugust Day 3

Firstly, a Blaugust-related update. I’ve realised that a lot of these posts are going to be quite personal when it comes to content. I think I need to accept that since I left Salford University, even those I’m working with social media on a daily basis, I’m just too far from the academic and up-to-the-moment stuff to write the kind of posts that I could do when I was a student. Time is also definitely a limiting factor. Basically, I need to learn a new way to write, and that’s what this month is going to be about.

Now, onto the main meat of this post… This morning as I was getting ready to go out, I happened to look up at the top shelf in my room, and the collection of CDs slowly gathering dust up there. I had a major clear-out about a year ago, only keeping the ones that I had a serious personal attachment to. They have been sitting there untouched ever since, because much as these albums were a huge part of my life, I just don’t use any of them any more.

Once upon a time, buying new music was a huge deal for me, but somewhere around 2010 I got a Spotify subscription, and the way I consume music completely changed. Currently I have a  staff-curated playlist of this week’s new hits playing in the background as I write, and as of this sentence, it’s giving me a Japanese pop ballad. This is sometime I would never have listened to when I was younger, because music was expensive and I was never going to buy anything that I couldn’t guarantee I was going to enjoy. This song? It’s okay. I’m enjoying it. I probably won’t listen to it again. I can come back to it if I want (though I wish Spotify still remembered your music history). I could send it instantly to a friend if I felt they would enjoy it – no more trying to share earbuds in the playground – or I could share it generally if I perhaps wanted the artist to have more recognition amongst my peers. Looking over this, it’s slightly scary how quickly this has changed. Music streaming hasn’t just changed the way I consume music, it’s changed the way I value recorded music. Before I had individual, physical items. The case, the booklet insert, the feeling of ‘putting on some music.’ I still love that to an extent (which is why I go through vinyl collecting phases, but tend to stop quickly because that sort of thing is both addictive and house-filling.) But now I value the ease of access. With a little googling, I can find almost any piece of music ever recorded. It’s all out there, from the chart hits to the obscure. I value how I can decide to listen to some music, hear it, decide if I like it, and either discard it or keep it and find similar tracks.

Of course, I understand how music has been physically devalued in this regard. I understand why artists take their music off streaming services, and issue copyright notices to YouTube. I understand that this post may sadden some musicians, even some friends of mine. I’m probably guilty of supporting a bad system. But that doesn’t stop my using that system, because I love it. And I still love those CDs, but I’ve come to see them as relics, as collector’s items rather than items of music. Because if I ever want to listen to any of my old favourites, I won’t be getting out a step stool to reach that top shelf. I’ll be going to Spotify.