May 2007 Archives

Orchestra (small)  80x103.jpg Will the next few decades see reduced opportunities to follow a performing career in the UK's major (inter-)national orchestras? On current evidence, that the answer may be Yes. Whilst ‘classical’ music at the highest levels will continue to stake its claim in the cultural universe, extended career progression for most orchestral musicians is probably diminishing.

It took centuries to establish professional symphonic orchestras as bodies which employ large numbers of accomplished performers, contracted full-time and as permanent employees within formal artistic companies.

The first instances of engaged orchestral players are to be found in the Mannheim of around Haydn’s time (Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809), when conspicuous by extraordinarily wealthy patrons consumption - a whole orchestra just for me! - was the order of the day; but it was another century or so before civic patronage supported the regional and national orchestras which we see today. And even then, full-time professional orchestral posts have become the norm often only in the second half of the twentieth century.

British orchestras in transition
Britain has an honourable orchestral tradition, as home to some of the longest-established orchestral societies in the world. Proportionately, the UK may have fewer civic professional orchestras than some other parts of Europe – a situation which is justifiable cause for regret – but what Britain lacks in quantity it compensates in quality, with a long and distinguished history in the orchestral tradition from the origin of the great institutions, right up to the present.

So what is the problem? Perhaps contemporary British experience is different from that of continental Europe, but there is a sense on the part of some in the UK (such as Norman Lebrecht) that ‘the classical orchestra is dead’.

Endangered careers
This view I would emphatically deny. It does seem however that the ‘career of orchestral performer’ is indeed becoming endangered.

Whilst the UK conservatoires produce more and better technically prepared instrumental performers (whether they are thereby necessarily greater individual artists than their predecessors may be another debate), the standing of and prospects for career orchestral players now is probably even worse than it has been for many years.

But despite claims to the contrary, this is not because the current government is hostile to classical music. It is because, over the years and however unintentionally, players have acquiesced whilst managers have allowed it to happen.

Shifting contexts
The situation of the major London orchestras (which we will not consider further here) is different from that of most other UK establishments, of which there are now considerably more than even a few decades ago. New flexibly sized ensembles have arisen across the country in response to changing cultural and popular demands, whilst the traditional ‘regional’ orchestras – all of them institutions of international standing – have remained the benchmark against which serious professional artists in the British orchestral tradition measured their careers.

Until now, that is. For the past fifteen years or so have seen major shifts in the professional experience of those instrumentalists who hold full-time posts in the leading non-London orchestras.

Demographics redistributed
No longer are orchestras bastions of white male middle-aged hegemony. That stereotypical profile actually evaporated quite a while ago, but changes have been increasingly rapid in the past few years.

Whilst rows of older men were previously the norm across least the front desks of major ensembles, their replacements are often now young women, and often this gender turnabout extends to large parts of the string sections if not always elsewhere. Many orchestras have become feminised. And they have also taken on many keen if less experienced young players, not always to the delight of their seniors, for whom a thorough knowledge of the repertoire, gained by years of experience, remains the hard-won key to professional self-respect.

Interpretational consequences for the music
Few professional musicians would deny that a combination of experience and fresh enthusiasm is critical in the orchestral mix; but numbers of more seasoned players claim that a substantial core of professionally mature performers is still required – people who literally know the score and can be relied upon to sustain their own orchestra’s corporate memory in the interpretation of great works.

Indeed, it has been argued this loss of specific corporate memory is why orchestras now allegedly sound more similar than they did previously – a ‘sameness’ of interpretation which many listening classical music enthusiasts regret, and which perhaps adds to the future challenges facing the genre.

Career musicians, or instrumental operatives?
But it is not just the orchestral art form which has changed because of the new demographics. The actual experience of being an orchestral player has likewise changed. And principally this is because many of the newer performers do not, it seems, perceive orchestral music as a career in the longer-term formal sense.

In the words of some backstage wags, the role of the orchestral performer has become that of ‘instrumental operative’. Rather than perceiving themselves as individual performers of standing who are increasingly valued over time, the newer generation of players perhaps sees the role as one to be experienced for a few years before moves away from the symphonic platform offer diverse ways forward.

Multiple roles and core roles
In part the greater opportunities orchestras now provide to engage in small ensemble work, to develop skills in ‘community education, and in some cases to take on leadership roles (with parallel in-service training) at an early stage in a career, are to be welcomed.

British orchestras can lay legitimate claim to being at the developmental forefront in terms of the orchestra as a body of fine players with a range of skills and approaches. But in so doing they are also in danger of neglecting their core role – the propagation of classical music by performers of the highest standard, of course illuminating their work with fresh insights both musicological and technical, but also bringing to bear the understandings and traditions of previous generations of inspired composers, conductors and performers.

Strange scenarios
It is a strange situation where some orchestras offer substantial on-the-job training in community education, but no continuing professional development at all in the central role of any orchestral musician – that of playing his or her chosen instrument. Human resource formal issues apart, this is extraordinary in terms of the institutional failure to invest in core business – no-one can continue comfortably for years with zero personal support in their central role, especially when it is as open to scrutiny as that of performing musicians.

It is also a strange situation where the contractual position of many orchestral players, especially tutti players, leaves them with no expectation ever of a reasonable salary. (In early 2007, the average minimum salary for tutti / 'rank and file' players in the fourteen BBC and major 'regional' orchestras was marginally more than £26,000 - with hardly higher pay at the top end of that scale.) one are the days when longer service was recognised and financially rewarded. Now maximum income can be achieved in just a few years, leaving the prospect of decades on the same sub-optimal income.

Not a sensible long-term option
Add to that the loss through contractual change (secured by managements since the demographic changes outlined above) of most small additional income through recordings and television appearances, as well as often the 24/7 on-call requirement at no extra cost within the hourly averaged week (not ever good for family life).

It is little wonder that orchestral musicians increasingly see their long-term futures elsewhere. It perhaps was fun whilst it lasted, but it’s no way, they may decide, to earn a sensible adult living.

Western classical music on the cusp?
In other musical genres artists trace their artistic ancestry back through the generations. Western classical musicians too are able if they wish to do this; but in general they do not.

Whilst the orchestral role remains so unpromising for many in terms of professional progression and opportunities, the prospects for the art form too must be in doubt.

Valuing skills and talent
Colleges, players and managements all have some part to play in reversing this situation. When managers, and more players themselves, demonstrate in real ways that they lay store by performers' skills and enduring careers, the paying public is more likely to do the same.

The way forward for orchestras is clear. Encourage a positive and purposive view of orchestral life, and other things will fall into place.

Read more about Music, Musicians & Orchestras.

Rainbow 1 (small) 85x90.jpg 11, 12, 13, 14, 15? At last you can start making your own choices. Your parent/s have the final say, but increasingly you're trusted just to get on with it. You know how important school is, and maybe you have ideas about a career, but there’s still space for fun in with the serious stuff. Sometimes you can even combine the two....

And that’s the idea, along with some general Be Happy Rules, behind the list which follows of ‘Things To Do’. You can try them, or you might not, but perhaps the list will spark off more ideas to keep you trying out new adventures and developing new skills.

OK, here goes. Why don’t you:

Get physical
Learn to roller or ice-skate, walk to school, swim competitively, train for the 5 /10k. Take the challenge to try something different from your normal team game or school activities. Remember, exercise is for life, so to gain the full benefits start now and enjoy.

Annotate your friends
You’d be astonished how quickly time will fly! To remember your friends now for the future, make a book, video or other record of who they are and how they are part of your life. Get them to add their own contributions to your ’collection’; but do ensure that what you record is something they’d still like to see in ten years’ time.

Help raise environmental awareness
Learn to calculate your carbon footprint – and then help others to do the same. Can you predict what is most ‘carbon costly’? Might you / others change anything you do because of what you learn? That carbon score might just deliver some surprises!

Become a fashionista
Can you find a sewing machine somewhere? Why not design and make your own clothes, from scratch or by adapting gear you already have? Girl or guy, choose a style, fabric or colour you like, and go for it. It’s never too early to make your own style statement.

Find you way around
You’re well past the ‘Are we nearly there now?’ stage, so learn to map-read – street maps, rights of way, routes in or out of town, journeys to other places; all make more sense (and are much more interesting) if you can interpret the map.

Create a little happiness
Everyone worries and feels down sometimes, but you can decide now to start life as you mean to go on – by making the best of things whenever possible. Give yourself a private project to observe what makes people you care for and admire really, positively happy; and then see what you can do, as a part of your daily routine, to create more of this wonderful state of being for yourself and others.

Do your bit for the environment now
Plant a shrub or tree, or some vegetables or flowers, then nurture them and watch them grow. Maybe you can make this the beginning of your new 'green’ habit? Could you even, perhaps, share this activity with others in your family?

Gain skills for independence
Regardless of gender, you’ll need to look after yourself ‘properly’ in the not-too-distant future. Sure, you’re excellent on computers, but do you know how to operate the washing machine, redecorate a room or cook a decent meal? Having these skills is not only useful, they can also be the way to impress your family and friends. So if you’ve got it, flaunt it - think where cooking has taken Jamie Oliver!

Write your own ‘future diary’
You’re beginning to think seriously about your future. Now is the time to ’vision’ it, however straightforward or ambitious your intentions. Use your ‘future diary’ to imagine what life in your possible line of work might be like in five, ten or fifteen years. How might your workday go? How might you feel about it? And, most importantly, if you like what you ‘see’, what do you need to do to get there?

Do your own thing
Maybe you want to do things your way, no bright-ideas-from-elsewhere style? Well, within the boundaries of what’s sensible and positive, just go for it.

But whatever you do, please remember just to check with your parents first – plus, you never know, they may perhaps even
have just a few good ideas of their own!

Have you read....?
Things To Do When You're 16 - 18
What To Do At Any Age - Be Happy
* Life is not a rehearsal
* Smile when you can
* Do acts of random kindness
* Try no-TV days
* Be cautious sometimes, cynical never
* Use your pedometer
* Treat yourself daily to a 'Went Right' list

And why not add your own take on Things To Do When You're 11–15 via the Comments box below...

Grosvenor cranes (small) 70x137.jpg The deadlines for Liverpool city centre renewal now loom. Whilst the Big Dig continues to present us all with challenges, Liverpool One, the enormous Grosvenor development, is becoming a discernable entity.

Liverpool Grosvenor Development 07.5.14 480x412.jpg

Wind turbine (small) 85x114.jpg A White Paper on sustainability and planning rules is about to appear. Ruth Kelly, the Government's Communities Secretary, wants climate change to be an integral part of the agenda for the overall planning process, regarding both infrastructure and local renewable technologies. So why has the Local Government Association already rejected the White Paper?

The detail is always the issue, of course, but surely the Local Government Association (LGA) is plain wrong to reject - or so it appears - Ruth Kelly's proposed White Paper on planning rules and sustainability even before it goes to print?

There may well be issues about how planning applications for big projects such as airport terminals are handled, but the present system is hardly perfect. (The time scale - six years - and cost of the process for Heathrow's fifth terminal is one example.)

Addressing climate change where it makes a difference
The critical point of the intended White Paper is that it attends to the very real challenge of climate change. Yvette Cooper, the Department of Communities and Local Government Housing Minister, is already lined up to head a 'green buildings task force'; now Ruth Kelly wants to do her bit by enabling more easily the actual implementation of the essential changes to the way things will be done.

Oliver Letwin, the Conservatives' policy spokesperson, and (Lord) Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Tory leader of the LGA, have responded to the idea of the Green Paper by talking about loss of 'local control'.

A global issue, not a local one
I'm all for local people feeling empowered and engaged - the local dimension does matter - but haven't Messrs Letwin and Bruce-Lockhart lost the plot?

Climate change is a global issue, not one which can be resolved primarily by local consultation, for goodness' sake.

Derelict site (small) 80x111.jpg Is freeing northern inner-city land the best way to a more equitable and ecologically sustainable national economy? For wealthy city-based Southerners this is possibly an obvious strategy. But some of us Up North, or anywhere in the inner-city / rural hinterland, might want a few safeguards built in.

'The sensible way to redistribute housing wealth [and] promote balanced development', writes Simon Jenkins in today's Guardian, 'is to free on to the market the millions of acres of empty and under-occupied inner-city land.'

Jenkins thus pronounces Gordon Brown's idea for five 'eco-friendly' towns, apparently on derelict rural sites in the south, as 'solely about economic growth', with little or no reference to the 'duty to promote social cohesion or civic enterprise.'

It appears Brown is judged to have learned nothing from the work of Willmott and Young and others who devoted much of their professional lives to the lessons of Bethnall Green in London's East End, and other housing relocation programmes.

One size does not fit all
If Gordon Brown intends only to build his new towns, and not to attend in any way to the issues of VAT (still imposed on brownfield development) or distantly rural housing, perhaps Simon Jenkins has a point. But I doubt that's all there is to it.

These southern 'eco-towns' will free up housing in overheated areas such as the Golden Triangle, and will make it easier for many people on medium and low wages to live within striking distance of the national facilities they service for a living. These eco-towns will also offer people in some rural locations a more affordable option for housing.

The 'Northern' focus
I am amongst those who have argued fiercely for large-scale knowledge economy and other investments in the North of England. I don't however think, despite Gershon and its challenging proposals, that simply trying to move people Up North en masse is an answer - which is the de facto corollary of the 'just develop northern inner-city brownfields' position.

We have already noted the extraordinary idea, still promoted it seems by some strategists in the North of England, that northern housing investments and wages must be kept down - that's the income levels of those of us Northerners actually in work, sacrificed - for the sake of in-coming investors. Now it appears that southern commentators also think northern house prices must be constrained.

One way traffic?
Charming. That's one way to make sure people can come to us in the North, but we can't go to live with them (and they won't be able to go back to the South either).

What I'd rather see is two-way traffic, making it easy for people to migrate in roughly equal numbers between different parts of the country at different points in their careers and lives.

Perhaps, indeed, it's this fear of losing out on the housing market which is making Gershon so difficult to implement? People know, intuitively, that if they move North they will lose out, just as we up here know we can't afford to move South, however much we might want that experience personally or professionally.

Getting real - and sustainable
So let's get real. There is a need for more affordable housing in the South, and if it can be even quasi-carbon neutral (if 'quasi' is the term) I'd welcome that. We have to start somewhere.

And let's add to that the need, frequently and vigorously promoted, to develop northern brownfield, inner-city sites in a similar way, with whatever tax breaks and incentives are required. Maybe that's next on Gordon Brown's list?

Graduate retention
But please don't do all this in a way which actually diminishes the opportunity of the (relative minority) of Northerners who do have personal and professional high ambitions - those very people most generically equipped to promote Simon Jenkin's overall 'social cohesion and civic enterprise' - from moving around the country as they should.

The North needs such people even more than the South does. At the moment however, the best advice for most very bright young graduates from northern universites is, 'Go South Now'. (Challenge me on this is you wish...)

If we're serious about retaining high skills practitioners in the North, it would be a good idea at least to acknowledge their property and income interests too.

07.5.12 The Ring (small) 44x104.jpg Yesterday was a pivotal day in our lives.
This image says it all.

07.5.12 The Wedding 380x490.JPG

Lewis'sStoreClosing Notice 2007.4 (small)90x134.jpg Liverpool city centre is in a state of flux, as the Big Dig re-routes and bewilders in equal measure. The aim is that the city centre will become a pleasant, business-friendly place to be. The disgraceful state of Renshaw Street, linking Lime Street Station to the city south end, sadly belies that intent. It's scruffy and delapidated; does it have to be like this?

Renshaw Street Liverpool from Lewis's to Lime Street  160x196.jpg Lewis'sStatue 160x81.jpg Liverpool Lime Street looking down Renshaw Street to Lewis's 160x209  2007.4.jpg

The steel-grey vistas above are what first greet visitors to Liverpool's city centre. The once-mighty Lewis's department store and the street from there to the main train station look much as some of us recall them thirty years ago, except perhaps they are less well scrubbed. And to add to this we now have the challenge of the City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS) 'in action' every time we come into town.

The Big Dig as a way of life
To those familiar with Liverpool's city centre the Big Dig has become a way of life. Intended to make the heart of Liverpool 'fit for purpose' for the celebratory years of 2007 and 2008, this now seemingly perennial feature of the city centre experience feels to have become a liability for Liverpool's citizens, rather then an opportunity to enhance our future.

Many are asking whether a city which has suffered so much digging of holes and diversion of traffic in all directions can actually survive as an economic entity until the works are finally completed. The word is that some local businesses are going to the wall, especially in the train station area around Liverpool Lime Street, RenshawStreet and the Adelphi Hotel (not, it seems, itself under duress).

Enterprise endangered
Certainly, there have already been casualties. Heart & Soul, Chumki Banerjee's signature bistro restaurant just around the corner on Mount Pleasant, has closed and Lewis's Ltd (quite a different retail company from John Lewis) is rumoured after many years - it was founded in 1856 - to be folding imminently (mid-May 2007). There are also suggestions that some other long-established local stores are at risk.

A relaxed approach to regeneration?
No-one denies that improvements to the city centre are required; but many question the apparently relaxed approach the City Council and others have taken to achieving this.

Work on the Big Dig seems at best to be nine-to-five, and nobody, as far as one can tell, has a responsibility actually to clean up the grimly grey and crumbling retail and commercial buildings along Renshaw Street from Lime Street.

Take a fresh look - and freshen up!
Is it surprising that businesses in this well-established part of town are feeling the pinch? Who would choose to walk from Lime Street up to Lewis's along a street resembling the set of a 1960s kitchen sink melodrama, when they can instead take the crossing outside the station into the pedestrian zone?

Perhaps some city leaders need to walk this walk, as well as talking the theoretical talk about the local infrastructural wonders we can soon expect.

Support the positive
There will always be brave souls who find a way forward. Fleur Hair and Beauty, previously located in the now-collapsing Lewis's department store, has taken a walk across the road to the Adelphi Hotel Health Club, where the business can re-consolidate. No doubt there are others too who have faced the future and re-grouped.

Things are never static, especially in the world of enterprise, and to some extent this is good. That, however, does not excuse the failure of city local leaders to address problems which are beyond the control of all but the very largest businesses.

Challenging market conditions
This is a city with more than the usual proportion of small and medium sized enterprises (compared to large ones - but still low in proportion to the public sector). These SMEs, often owned and run by individuals who actually live in Liverpool, have little slack in their business plans to accommodate civic laxity.

Not all businesses are equally effectively run, but Liverpool can't afford the luxury of just letting private sector interests go to the wall without any support.

Nurture the positives
As I have said before, Regeneration Rule No. 1 has to be:
First nurture the positive assets you already have.

It's not just the interests of visitors to our 2007 and 2008 celebrations that we must protect. The concerns of local workers and entrepreneurs are also core.

They, after all, are the people who hope still to be here in 2009.

FleurVaughan150x224.jpg Fleur Health & Beauty

Spindles Health Club
The Britannia Adelphi Hotel
Ranelagh Place (Renshaw Street)
Liverpool L3 5UL

0151-709 7200 x 044

And a happy PS: Fleur has now re-opened her salon in the 'rescued' Lewis's, to run alongside the Adelphi salon - Lewis's, Ranelagh Street, 0151-709 7000.

Four dots Markings 140x55 030bb.jpg Liverpool 's 2008 European Capital of Culture Year will be upon us in just a few months. But deep divides remain between artists, civic leaders and many local people about what the 2008 Year is 'for'.

Alex Corina has taken the plunge into controversy on developments with the Liverpool's plans for the 2008 European Capital of Culture Year. He's reinvented Edvard Munch's The Scream as The Liverpool Scream, just as in happier times he produced the Mona Lennon.

How do we measure success?
Despite the intentional playing to the gallery in all this, there is a very serious issue to be considered here. It concerns the rationale/s which lie behind the 2008 culture programme.

For many (not all) in the Culture Company I gather that one of most important 'real' ways that success will be measured in 2008 is number of tourist beds (i.e. overnight stays) which are achieved during the year.

The local artists' perspective
I can see why this is a significant measure, but it's not the message which most 'community arts' people in the city want to prioritise. They, like some Culture Company officers, seek to develop their communities by using 'culture' as a socially helpful way to bring people together.

This is however obviously much harder to measure and has less immediate impact on the seriously challenging sub-regional economy (though longer-term it would be good).

A view from cultural institutions
And then of course there are the 'high arts' bigger organisations which no doubt see the major outcome for themselves as being numbers of tickets sold for shows, concerts, whatever.

Again, a very valid perspective, and we need to recognise that if these organisations were not to benefit from 2008 'celebrations' they would be in serious trouble in 2009 - which would mean the loss of many very accomplished artists and performers who currently work in the city(but often choose not to live here because the additional employment opportunities are so much better in, say, Manchester - see below).

Nurturing home-based professional artistic talent?
But the requirement to sustain the big arts organisations, though vital for Liverpool's future status, still ignores the need - not at all as yet recognised as far as I can judge - to support locally-based fully trained and professional artists and performers with very high levels of skill who want to work in the city simply as artists and performers, not as community-based animateurs.

An edgy approach
This may be difficult when, for instance, the new Liverpool Commissions stream requires that applicants offer something wacky and on the edge; which is good for some, but sounds absolutely daft if you are a historically-inclined fine arts person or a classically trained musician.

Playing to the local Liverpool gallery, which prides itself on being on the edge, is understandable, but it won't impress many others from elsewhere; and why aren't local professional artists being respected as artists in their own right - or so it might appear - in the same way as visiting ones?

I have already asked How Will We Know That Liverpool 2007 & 2008 Were Successful? And that debate continues.

At least three views?
In the meantime, I'm still not sure what the answers might be, but they seem to coalesce around the three views above:

1. tourist spend / beds

2. community cohesion and capacity building

3. (potentially) retention of high-level artistic skills in the city

Where's the dialogue?
Unfortunately however there seems to be very little dialogue between those who promote each of these perspectives.

Indeed, I'm not sure it's possible to do this under the present 'consultation' arrangements, with occasional meetings of large numbers of people - professional artists and others with very different experience together - in sports halls and the like.

Bringing the issues into focus
If Alex Corina's current activities can help everyone to focus on the 'what's 2008 for?' message whilst there's still at least a little bit of time left, that will be excellent.

As a city resident I'd like to see everything succeed so that proposed cultural 'villages', respected highly-skilled professional artists and performers, and our tourist trade all flourish ; but we're still a way from achieving this.

A matter of urgency
The dialogue does need to be getting somewhere, and pretty quickly, please.

Boarded Up House (small) 85x98.jpg 'Regeneration' happens when someone with influence perceives a need for improvement. But this is a process in which professionals omit to involve those to whom regeneration is being done at their peril. What follows is therefore a set of observations or 'rules', derived from direct experience, about how regeneration and community engagement may play out on the ground.

The 'Rules' below are presented from the perspective of a professional approaching a regeneration scenario. The reader might like to turn them around and 'translate' them, to reflect the possible understandings of a person 'in the community' on whose (claimed) behalf regeneration is taking place.

1) It is very difficult to ensure that everyone 'knows' what they need / would like to know.

2) People at all levels get suspicious / unhelpful if they feel 'left out of the loop'.

3) Identifying legitimate Stakeholders is always a challenge - not all of them are formal.

4) Professional practitioners are not the font of all knowledge.

5) Perspectives and language (discourse / terms) may vary dramatically between parties.

6) Expectations may similarly vary, and can be challenging to manage.

7) It is essential to start any programme by identifying 'what works' and protecting that.

8) Who is 'qualified' to undertake such 'what works' identification can be problematic.

9) Participants' understandings develop over time; what they'd initially asked for will change.

10) The same may also apply to the professionals involved - especially if they are sensitive to context.

11) Sustainability - social, economic, physical - is often overlooked in practice, if not in theory.

12) There is rarely a clear end-point (when does 'regeneration' finish?)

13) Engagement is by definition voluntary; it can never be forced, but is very necessary.

14) Equipping people to engage often requires patience, skill and thoughtful leadership.

15) Many stakeholders only really become interested when the chequebook arrives; be ready and beware!

These observations formed part of a lecture delivered (by Hilary Burrage) on 23 April 2007 to Masters' students of social policy and political science at Charles University, Prague, in the Czech Republic.

What do you think?
Do these 'rules' reflect your experience? And are there other 'rules' to add to these?

Cherry Blossom (small) 70x90.jpg The cherry blossom in Liverpool's Sefton Park has been very early this year; it has already offered much delight to those who stroll along the middle lakesides, the blossoms pink, cream, white and even cerise. But one tree is still in glorious full bloom as we reach May Day eve.

Cherry Blossom Sefton Park Liverpool 07.4.30 for MayDay 480x380.jpg

See also: Sefton Park's Grebes And Swans

Liverpool's Sefton Park, Swans, Herons And Grebes

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Friends Of Sefton Park