Guest writer/reader: Tim Hooton, Birmingham, UK

The first thing to say is how lucky we are to have the BBC, Classic FM, and cultural freedom! The BBC has Musicians & Orchestras, but also the highest quality medium(with a broad spectrum of genres on Radio,TV and Web) for sharing their creativity and that of others, albeit at a fixed non-optional licence fee instead of adverts. Classic FM is a commercial radio station offering a popular selection of classical music.

Cultural freedom? Democratic? Well the government does allocate taxpayers’ money for the Arts at various levels, but increasingly through the National Lottery fund. As a tax payer and voter at local & national elections I trust the system, but I’m sure there are others who believe it is less than democratic, particularly in these times of government cuts and other national priorities. There are also other highly competitive media vying for our cultural attention, not always for purely cultural reasons.

At the risk of leaving the cultural arguments for the politicians for now, I’ll focus on the topic of Classical music culture. Roughly half of our listening time is devoted to classical music in particular and listening to music is probably our main relaxation.

Photo credit: Symphony Hall Birmingham/Mike Gutteridge

Birmingham has a wonderful new state of the art Symphony Hall, a refurbished Town Hall and the National Indoor Arena which host both classical and other large concerts and events. There is also the National Exhibition Centre, and several other large independent concert venues. While there is plenty to see live at mostly reasonable prices and availability, we mostly listen to music at home while we relax especially BBC Radio 3, currently live at the BBC Proms, or recorded and mostly CD based music. The BBC Proms are eagerly awaited every summer for our classical keyif and adventure of discovering new pieces or reliving old favourites. The only TV is relegated to the guest room and the HiFi is the focus of the living room even when the Prom is live on TV as well as simulcast on Radio 3. I rarely listen to music in the car, or on my iPod because I prefer to be part of, and in tune with, the environment around me when I’m not at home and especially cycling to work.

A large part of the reason is the quality, in terms of both audio visual and performance of the material available. We can appreciate internationally recognised musicians that we would otherwise have little opportunity to see ‘live’ in the UK. The quality of UK FM Radio and BBC Radio3 in particular is exceptional with a reasonable HiFi system, and CD quality is usually higher still despite being digital replacement for traditional vinyl records. I sincerely hope that government efforts to sell off the analogue radio and TV spectrum and promote digital DAB replacement are not at the cost of audio (or video) quality and reception. I also hope that the move to internet music is not at the cost of quality and just reward to those who create it, live or recorded.

I’ll leave it to the reader to draw their own cultural parallels.

Royal Albert Hall Photos: Ali Nihat Eken July 2011, London

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