Rally Against the Forces of Decadence

by David Hamilton (June 2012)

High Culture is often attacked as upper-class entertainment or a way the ruling elites achieve hegemony over the masses. The elitist argument is ideological rather than factual because working-class people are not barred from attending concerts. Politeness and good manners are essential but anyone who pays the fee is entitled to watch a concert.

The definitions are inaccurate. What is described as popular culture is actually manufactured culture created by corporations to make money from the masses. It is also a means of social control – bread and circuses. It is not really culture but fashion and its omnipresence serves to dissociate young people from their general culture and communities while creating manufactured identities.

Even talented musicians are controlled by record companies through their contracts. For example, artists are legally obliged to perform in publicity videos chosen by the record label to market their music to a particular section of the public. Hollywood action films are aimed at adolescents not adults.

Traditional and truly popular culture are inherited not manufactured. Schubert and Beethoven used folk songs as motifs and modern popular culture has used classical influences for melodies and structure. Vaughan Williams is a fine example of the use of traditional folk music in classical works and contemporary composer Peter Maxwell Davies has written pieces which incorporate or are inspired by folksong or folk melody like An Orkney Wedding.

Traditional culture has depth: you can penetrate as far as you have the depth to go. It also has a long continuity. Manufactured culture is exemplified by boy and girl bands that are created and marketed to appeal to young people as a commercial arrangement. These fads are engendered by the new Establishment.

When Bill Haley and his Comets first toured Britain in 1957 they were sponsored by the Daily MirrorSex. McLaren managed a rock band of swearing youths – the Sex Pistols. Lead singer John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten had a supurb rock voice. Elvis Presley had a very wide vocal range and natural presence but was controlled by his manager.

There is a proliferation of David Beckham clones wondering around in the sort of gear he advertises. I saw a young man in a Rock Bar recently with a Mohican haircut – a 1970s fad but Beckham recently had one. These are described as “sub-cultures” by cultural Marxist academics but are deculturation by corporations and replaced when another money-spinning style appears.

Popular culture is distinct from the manufactured culture which is now called “popular culture”.

The ballads of Robin Hood or Medieval Mystery and Miracle plays with their pageants are examples. These grew out of the Corpus Christi Day ceremonies and were produced by guilds of tradesmen. They were communal, not wholly top down affairs like manufactured culture. Music Hall (Vaudeville) was a popular entertainment but well to do people also attended. The performers were very talented and in complete control of their songs and the audiences.

There is little of Marie Lloyd left but there is of Libby Morris and Wilson, Keppel and Betty are one of the most original acts I have seen. They were not manufactured by corporations. (1)

The great traditional works of Europe grew from spiritual aspiration which is part of religious observance. Bach and my personal favourites Byrd and Tallis were church organists and imbued Christian spirituality and transformed it into profoundly uplifting music.

Throughout the 60s there were dishonest clergy who took their pay from the Church but tried to undermine it from within. Believing in “The Death of God” and promoting Marxism from the pulpit. John Robinson, the Bishop of Woolwich, dismissed the traditional idea of a “God up there” or “out there” and said God is love. What is love in the abstract?

The Closing of the Church to the public

Those responsible for traditional culture in the churches have retreated into little worlds when they should be welcoming a wider public, not facilitating our deculturation. Churches and cathedrals are constantly appealing for money from the public but seem not to encourage people to attend.

Sunday evening services in the Church of England are communion services which cater for those who have undergone confirmation not new worshippers. The popular service at St. Lawrences Ludlow, uses The Book of Common Prayer and attracts about 70 but is held at 8 a.m; the less popular modern service with its average attendance of 17, is at the more social 9a.m. (2)

The synod are not interested in the views of people outside the Church and do little to attract them. They have closed their minds and see everything through the dogma of progressive services. I once remarked to a vicar that I gave up church when they destroyed the service by dropping the King James Bible. He was amazed! They are ideologically convinced that holding services in a vulgar, modern English means people can understand the services. You can not understand communication with God in a simple rational way but do achieve a spiritual awareness through sublime language.

I tried to get information on concerts of The Linnaeus Ensemble who were playing at two churches but neither church replied to me. I mentioned this to one of the musicians and she explained: “Churches are like that!” Do these people enjoy hosting concerts for empty rooms? My helpers and I wrote to several religious and secular venues to make a comparison. We never received a reply from Great St. Mary, Cambridge, Norwich Cathedral, or Gloucester Cathedral.

I attended a concert at Birmingham Conservatoire and was probably the only one in the audience not connected to the College or friend of the performers. Young musicians would gain experience and confidence by playing to a wider selection of the public. I wrote to the head of the Conservatoire but never received a reply. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert which was conducted by Margaret Faultless as a wider audience would have.

Zoe Poyser of Birmingham Conservatoire explained :

We have a varied output of both public and educational activities that range from those involving students of the Conservatoire as well as external hirers such as Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, Birmingham Music Service, Central England Ensemble, Schubert Ensemble, and Birmingham University Symphony Orchestra and so on. Our priority as an educational institution is to provide performance spaces and opportunities for our students, but this sits alongside and in harmony with our existence as a performance facility for hire.

Art Galleries make great effort to welcome the wider public and offer many opportunities for education. The fabulous National Gallery in Trafalgar Square has greeters who will answer any questions put to them by the public and many interesting books on sale as do Galleries of Contemporary Art such as The Tate in London and the The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. Sarah Wilkinson of the Baltic was very informative:

I often recommend that visitors spend some time talking to the Crew (gallery assistants), who have a thorough knowledge of the works on display. They are there to clearly provide an insight into the views and ideas of the artists themselves as well as listen to and discuss the ideas and thoughts of our visitors as well as their own. Many of them are artists themselves which lends an extra dimension to discussions on artistic practice and we know from our comments and audience research that visitors who have used this resource have a richer experience as a result.

The insularity of Church officials

The Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral said he would look at my email when he had some spare time: I heard no more. This is a great shame because Gloucester is a magnificent Cathedral with most beautiful cloisters and would also benefit from donations from the public. I asked for some information on the continuity of the choir: “I know its on the net but personal views are always more interesting and more engaging. I would quote you and mention the choir.” This was my intention throughout.

Those responsible for publicity do respond to explain how they try to attract audiences as Helen Simms at Gloucester Cathedral did. It is the clergy and directors of music who are insular.

Traditional Culture grows from religion. It is part of our continuity and is inherited from our ancestors, not specially created for our entertainment as a commercial operation. It is an historic continuity and though there are different periods and reactions they occur within a continuous tradition.

Norwich Cathedral choir has impressive continuity. It was founded in 1096 and continues the tradition of choral worship today. It makes broadcasts and recordings and their repertoire is masterpieces of the Renaissance to contemporary by such as John Tavener and James Macmillan.

Yet when we contacted the Cathedral for information on their choir and its history we were ignored despite twice being told the Vice Dean would contact us.

The Reverend of Gonville and Caius, Cambridge replied to my assistant:

I am in no position to generalise about the issues you raise because I have not done any research or studied any academic surveys on the subject. I can only say that most people who come to Caius Chapel find it an intimate, warm and friendly place where people are given support if they look for it, and left in peace to say their prayers if that is what they prefer.

That was not my assistant's experience which is a pity because it has a fine chapel and should have a wider audience.

A good example

The Dean of Kings College, Cambridge, was very polite and courteous and explained that he had introduced a welcoming system whereby he and the Chaplain stand at the door to welcome people as they arrive for the service, and to wish them well as they leave.

This didn't happen until relatively recently, and so I'd like to think we'd actually made progress in being warmer. Certainly quite a lot of people have said as much. On the other hand, it also has to be said that the very large congregations we generally get at King's, composed as they are mostly of one-off visitors, do mean that the actual personal contact is pretty limited. It's perhaps also important to remember that the Chapel is a private chapel which serves the community of King's College first and foremost, and so much of the personal contact for which we are primarily responsible happens outside the Chapel itself, in other parts of the College.

The difference in secular venues

The Three Choirs Festival is held in cathedrals but organised by a separate independent charitable trust, the Three Choirs Festival Association. Debbie Liggins was very helpful:

We hire the space (along with up to 15 other venues in each City) but with the benefit of 300 years of tradition i.e. the Cathedrals have us in their calendar in perpetuity, though we have to negotiate the terms every year.
The Three Choirs Festival takes place for a 10 day period only and rotates annually between the 3 cities of Hereford, Gloucester & Worcester. Yes, our main concert venue is the Cathedral in each city, but we are more interested in promoting the excellence of the festival with its international reputation than the various venues utilised. Thus we focus on our international soloists, resident symphony orchestra (the Philharmonia Orchestra) and the quality of the artistic programme. We advertise and place editorial in niche choral and classical publications and online event listing sites.

They use promotional material, e-newsletters, press releases.

They cherish the different character that each city gives to the festival and undertake extensive publicity within each city every 3 years while putting on 'fringe' events for the local community. (3)

Ludlow's excellent, world famous festival makes every effort to reach a wide public. They send-out 40, 000 brochures, have 13, 000 friends on their list and use a professional firm to to distribute them and they have many visitors from abroad.

They stage a Shakespeare play which is very atmospheric as it is put on in Ludlow Castle and, as the sky is darkening, Bats take to the wing and create a eerie atmosphere. This year it is much Ado About Nothing which, regrettably, has been set in WW2 Britain on VE Day. Changing periods always ruins the play because it changes the associations of the time period.

In response to my article, “The Neglect of English Classical Music,” Raymond Walker, Chairman Victorian Opera NW wrote: (4)

May I say how strongly we at Victorian Opera endorse what you are saying. I agree with all you say about the composers mentioned. How could it be that the Cheltenham Festival did not give the premiere of Holst's Cotswold Symphony and that a Danish CD label Classico provided the first hearing of this symphony. And how dare a director Michael Berkeley promote his own work when he should be acting as an impartial director of the Festival. 2008 saw Balfe's bi-centenary yet nothing was given by R3. When last September RTE broadcasted a rare performance of Balfe's Falstaff 1838 the BBC wouldn't relay it even though it would have cost them nothing in royalties. We have just recorded W V Wallace's 'Lurline' 1860, a superb work, in readiness for his bi-centenary in 2012. Will Wexford or Buxton pick up a Wallace opera to perform? I doubt it without a deliberate shake up. I am disheartened by the fact that licence payers cannot get R3 to promote a wider coverage of classical music instead of pushing atonal and serial music that very few enjoy listening to.

It is important to save English Music that is stuck in attics and garages and record it. The Daily Telegraph of 26 April 2004 had a feature on John Foulds as Birmingham Symphony Orchestra released “Dynamic Tryptich.” Malcolm MacDonald, editor of music magazine Tempo: “There's no question he was a genius and one of the most significant English composers of the last century MacDonald, found some scores in the British Library:

I got out a dozen pieces, and the first thing I opened was the Dynamic Triptych. I was blown away by it. This was music unlike any British composer of the time. I was amazed it was lying around, and no one was playing it.

“Foulds's daughter ” took me to the garage, where there were two coffin-sized boxes full of sketches and manuscripts she's been left by her mother.” Unfortunately, many of the manuscripts were damaged by rats and ants. In his book “Music Today” Foulds's, explained how, by strict diet and meditation, he had developed his clairvoyant and clairaudiant abilities. Much of his music, he claimed, was dictated to him by spirits.

Some of the greatest modern English music has been popular like Elgar, Tippett and Britten.

One who is keen to promote traditional music is Em Marshall founder of The English Music Festival and EM Records. I asked her why so many guardians of classical music looked inwards rather than outwards to a wider audience: She told me:

I suppose that maybe they feel it is “safer” keeping their concerts amongst a dedicated audience whom they know approve of the music, rather than opening it up to the general public, where they might experience more criticism? I don't really know – that's only a possible thought! Clearly if traditional music is going to survive it HAS to be opened up to as many people as possible – and it is unfair and narrow-minded to keep it from anyone who might want to listen. We are now publishing scores to make this music accessible to artists as well as making our own DVDs.(5)

The Chinese sacred book the I Ching has some pertinent imagery. In line 4 of hexagram 64: It is a question of a fierce battle to break and to discipline the Devil's Country, the forces of decadence.

That is what the clergy and directors of music in the churches must do – not abandon the field to them. They have become insular and cater for themselves not the public. When I was researching in St. Lawrence's, Ludlow, an orchestra was practicing for a concert. There was a stall with refreshments but “Brian” refused me a cup of tea because I was not a member of the orchestra!

We have churches and cathedrals from those of accepted beauty and majesty to the eccentric as in Chesterfields twisted spire and these should be the centre of our communities. They must open up to the general public by advertising and putting on refreshments to perpetuate our culture not allow the forces of decadence to go unchallenged. Colleges of education have a responsibility to do so because they are funded by taxpayers money. They should not lower standards – people must lift themselves up. Religion is the fount of culture and churches and cathedrals are spines of continuity running through our national story.

(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq7DGvfnr3U&feature=related

(2) http://www.rvwsociety.com/biography.html

(3) Peter Hitchins.The Abolition of Britain.1999. PP 105-135

(4) www.3choirs.org

(5) https://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/44183/sec_id/44183

(6) The next English Music festival is (1-5 June 2012)  http://www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk/

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