TAFTO Contribution Helen Radice

U.K. based harpist extraordinaire, Helen Radice, is one of the most imaginative music bloggers around today.  Her weblog, Twang, Twang, Twang (I bet you don’t forget that name), contains paragraph after paragraph of razor edge wit and observation about the music world and other sundry items as she sees fit to include them.

Although much of that wit is undoubtedly natural, it must have certainly been refined during her time at Oxford, where she graduated with a first in English Literature.  Her contribution is a representative example of that refined proficiency and provides the Take a Friend to Orchestra program a heavyweight submission which touches every portion of this business yet seamlessly connects them together. It’s filled with numerous quotes you’ll be turning over in your head for weeks to come!

When I was about 16, I played in a youth orchestra.  We spent two
weeks in the beautiful city of Durham rehearsing, and proceeded to the
cathedral for a powerful programme of In the South, Lutoslawski 4, and
the Alpine Symphony.

During the Lutoslawski’s heart-stopping violin solo, a
teeth-grinding noise of somebody scraping their pew on the stone floor
as they fidgeted in their seat crunched through the air.  As one, the
orchestra flinched as if they had been shot.  How, in heaven or earth,
could anybody not be as transported as we were?  How could anybody not
know this music was the most important thing in the whole world?

Ah, we were young, in love with our new, exciting music; free to do
nothing but practice and rehearse; surrounded by like-minded people;
and led by a charismatic conductor we all wanted to go to bed with,
boys and girls alike.  Young we were, but it was not so much youth that
fired us as our situation.   

We had all the elements Peter Maxwell Davies
recently identified as vital to classical music’s survival:  education,
resources, and (to us) new music.  Working on the music from scratch to
known-backwards revealed hitherto-undreamt vistas stretching out before

Classical music labours under the idea that music should speak for
itself, without explanations in clumsy words or vulgar accompanying
visual spectacle.  Perhaps it does so because those professionally
involved in it are highly trained, and when you are educated, it is
easy to believe things more obvious than they are.  If somebody mutters
to me "Ich grolle nicht, und wenn das Herz auch bricht", I am
immediately moved, gripped by the poetry of a language I understand and
the beautiful Schumann I know it refers to.  If you recite an equally
beautiful song in Chinese, you could be telling me to pick up your

Perhaps this seems a windy way of making the familiar point that
audiences benefit from explanations and education.  But I have
eulogised at some length because I want you fully to realise how
enchanting it is to learn to appreciate something, how empowering, how
exciting to better oneself, move forward and explore such brave new
worlds;  and how important it is to know this feeling, if you are to
stick at learning anything.  The best teachers are the ones who make
you believe a) that something is wonderful, and b) you too are good
enough to know it.   

This is the broad foundation on which to take a friend to the
orchestra:  blazing enthusiasm, passionate care, for the music, and for
them, jointly.  You need both, and with both, you have real education,
not patronising guides to the orchestra or impenetrable notes about
subdominant modulations. 

At the moment, classical concerts are often polarised either into
high-minded affairs for existing aficionados, or "accessible" drivel
where the musicians and audience alike are funereally bored.  It’s
mistakenly assumed, with children or with adults, that if you know a
lot you must be clever and if you don’t know much you are very stupid.
Many people are put off classical concerts because the air of knowing
refinement makes them feel small.  Humiliation is not education.   To
learn about great music should leave you feeling ten feet tall.

Think of the most inspiring teacher you ever had, and be like that
for your friend:  affectionate, sociable, off to discover a programme
that should appeal to your particular friend (contrary to popular
belief, inspired and passionately performed programmes are being
performed, every day, so seek one out).  Enjoy animated conversation in
the bar about the music, tactfully judged, like all the best lessons. 
Be interested in what they have to say;  respect their opinions and,
when you plan your own concerts, consider changes or innovations they
suggest.  Performers, too, should delightedly welcome the audience
there to hear them.

Genuine education brings awareness, passion and demand.  Demand
incites the vital budgets and resources, which allow better education,
in a virtuous circle.  There is no reason for classical music to be any
less popular than film or the theatre, but we have to reassess how we
spread the word.  Professional music-making involves a lot of
self-analysis.  It is essential to remember how other people feel. 

– Helen Radice

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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