What’s in a name?

An article by Andrew Roberts

How would you define culture? The word originates from the Latin Cultura, “to cultivate”, which is why scientists use this to describe the growth of cells on a dish or plate. In more general use it describes what society regards as civilisation, in many cases regarded as western culture. This usually relates to the arts, leading to people being described as cultured or elitist.

Now we are in Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008, what can we expect? In its bid to win this prestigious title, Liverpool made it clear that it would be taking a multi-cultural view, the with the strap line “The world one city” to encompass the diverse ethnic groups that have travelled to this city through its port, a gateway to the world.

Perhaps you saw the opening concert reviewed on BBC2‘s Culture Show which was broadcast from the new £164m Liverpool Echo Arena. The show featured many of the Liverpool’s top pop musicians and, according to the BBC, the “Royal Philharmonic Orchestra”. So what’s not in the orchestra’s name? Well, “Liverpool” actually! Anyone can make a mistake, but a reliable source told me that the Beeb had been briefed and corrected several times prior to the broadcast. Perhaps they were overcome by the moving performances they had witnessed. After all, with a Starr led cast, surely that would have been the case.…

No mistake in the name there. Ringo (the former Beatle) returned to Liverpool to front the 08 Gala opening. In a TV interview later with Jonathan Ross, he declared that he had no desire to return to Liverpool, and then shamelessly plugged his new album, Liverpool 08, which begins with the line Liverpool I left you! Let’s hope things get better in the coming year. Liverpool has a cultural heritage few cities can match.

Culture in Liverpool is very varied, but there does seem to be an avoidance of any possible accusations of Elitism.

Who represents the Elite? If that is judged by the remuneration, I would guess that the Starr of the show would be taking home roughly the same as the entire Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and its conductor, Vasily Petrenko. Perhaps pop musicians are the new Elite!

So what’s in the name Elite? If you are referring to Merseyside’s football teams, the word Elite is expected and accepted, as it describes their status amongst the best in the world. Curious how that definition is used for all top sportspersons with a positive image, and yet when the same word applied to anything with a cultural angle suddenly changes context into a word implying snobbery and “high brow”.

An article featured in this magazine back in summer 2003, “The Athletic Musician” (available online via www.theclarinet.co.uk), drew many comparisons with the approach and training that musicians share with athletes and sportsmen at all levels. Many amateur athletes aspire to be like the stars in that field, and likewise many amateur musicians will do the same.

So how do you make the transition from an amateur to a professional? There is a famous story of a tourist in New York asking a passer-by “can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer came back “practise, practise, practise!” Like the athlete, the most important thing is to make sure that you are practising the right things. That maybe stating the obvious but often a lack of progress can result from a lot of practise of the wrong thing. Quality, not quantity, should be our keyword.

A series of articles will appear in future CASS magazines aiming to help you achieve the best results from your instrument. With guides to some of the fundamental techniques, starting with air control and covering embouchure, articulation and finger technique, you will be able to look at your playing in a new light.
The purpose of establishing a well grounded technique is to fulfil our desire to perform and express ourselves to the best of our ability, whatever level that may be. It is true to say that there is no freedom without discipline; this applies in all things but particularly in music of all types.

Classical music can be appreciated by anyone. It has been successfully used to reduce crime both in the UK and Venezuela! Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, claimed that the “harmonious music of the spheres” affects all matter. Maybe this is a point for further discussion; do please contact me with your views on this or any other points raised in the magazine.

We should all undertake our role as ambassadors for our music and encourage people to give it a go before succumbing to the stereo-typical assessment that classical music is “Elitist”. We can all enjoy and relate to music, at whatever level works for you. We should stand up for what we believe in and enjoy our art¬ – listening to and performing music.