Talking about classical music: radio as public musicology

Dromey, Christopher ORCID logoORCID: (2018) Talking about classical music: radio as public musicology. In: The Classical Music Industry. Dromey, Christopher ORCID logoORCID: and Haferkorn, Julia ORCID logoORCID:, eds. Routledge Research in Creative and Cultural Industries Management . Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, pp. 183-261. ISBN 9781138203693, e-ISBN 9781315471099, pbk-ISBN 9780367512262. [Book Section] (doi:10.4324/9781315471099-14)

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In the spacious, public foyer of London’s Southbank Centre, Europe’s largest arts centre, a wall-sized advert trails the concerts of the venue’s four resident orchestras with the slogan ‘a classical music season exclusively for pretty much everyone.’ Orthodox marketing practice might well blanche at the use of ‘exclusively’ to describe classical music. Inclusivity and accessibility are the contemporary watchwords of a musical genre long dogged by cultural stereotypes, particularly surrounding (middle) class and (old) age. But the slogan’s deliberate oxymoron is surely self-aware and provocative, aiming to stop readers in their tracks, to play on classical music’s image problem, and ultimately, of course, to attract concertgoers. More broadly, then, the slogan underlines the importance of language to how classical music is perceived today, and the sensitivities that influence and regulate that association. As a marketing ploy, ‘exclusively’ here is both an invitation—the music these orchestras produce is for you, dear reader—and a qualified reminder of classical music’s elite credentials. Potential concertgoers are invited to imagine a special or premier event, not one that is cliquish or exclusory. How such language frames classical music is the central theme of this chapter. Language is used in myriad ways to contextualise and set expectations about classical music, but many such forms currently slip under musicology’s radar, despite being essential to how the genre is perceived: from programme notes, liner notes, and reviews that steer audiences’ experiences, to “bluffer’s” guides and the efforts of marketers to promote and demystify classical music. Consider also the rise of social media, society’s keen appropriation of classical music, and oral media such as podcasts and radio, and the work required to understand how perceptions of classical music are shaped in the broadest sense becomes clear. To appreciate this argument is also to begin to make the case for public musicology, a bidirectional process that recognises and attaches greater significance to public-musicological artefacts (such as liner notes and radio) and considers how musicology can make music relevant and useful in the public sphere.

This nascent field is particularly pertinent to classical music, with its grand history and exclusive image. This chapter focusses on one of the most public forms of musicology to classify and critique how BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM speak about the music they broadcast. To survey the types and range of language they use is to reveal not only how the genre is portrayed on the radio today, but also the assumptions about what classical music is, and what it is supposed or presumed to do. In turn, the chapter will offer an account of how Radio 3 and Classic FM fulfil different but overlapping roles in today’s classical music industry. Figures show that these stations reach 1.89 and 5.36 million listeners per quarter respectively, making radio by far the most popular way in which people access classical music. Radio is therefore a meaningful way to critique the dilemmas—crises, as some commentators would have it—classical music faces. Indeed, radio itself, and particularly Classic FM, has been criticised heavily over the years, as we shall see. Such views are historically engrained, but how credible or true are they today? Might radio, in fact, be less a symptom of certain parts of classical music’s supposed malaise, and more a cure? Admittedly, examining radio as a conduit for musical understanding and enjoyment is challenging: the complete task would be as much philosophical and linguistic as cultural and musicological. This chapter is intended to be a midpoint that builds on recent musicology and sociology on both radio and the state of classical music, and which looks ahead to consider how public musicology might respond to the modern realities of classical music. A study of the vocabulary Radio 3 and Classic FM use to characterise classical music is therefore framed by two field-scoping sections: on public musicology itself and, first, on the intense debates that encircle the genre today.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Hardback: Published June 5, 2018
Paperback: Published May 28, 2020
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts > Music group
Item ID: 19621
Notes on copyright: This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Classical Music Industry on 05/06/2018, available online:
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Dr Chris Dromey
Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2016 12:26
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 19:52

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