Kevin Buckle: Classical music is winning funding battle of the bands

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More bad news on the small venue front after Arts Council England (ACE) rejected an application for funding from the Music Venue Trust, a charity set up to defend their interests.

While this was an English arts council decision, it does make you wonder whether, even if the smaller venues in Scotland became more proactive in trying to get grants, they would fare any better with Creative Scotland.

It was immediately pointed out that 85% of the funding given out by ACE was going to classical music and opera and of course that argument that there is a ‘high’ and ‘low’ art divide is equally relevant in Scotland.

When I looked recently at figures provided by Creative Scotland on how they had allocated the £12.8 million they had given to music, the first thing I noticed was that almost two thirds of the funding was earmarked for the Youth Music Initiative.

The YMI covers a wide range of activities inside and outside of school for those up to the age of 25 and is a Scottish government initiative. What funds aren’t spoken for again mostly go to classical music.

Top of the list is the Scottish Ensemble getting £333,333 so that’s a million pounds every three years. Second is the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with £229,850 and third the rather blandly named Enterprise Music Scotland. With no clue in the name, a quick Google reveals they promote Scottish chamber music.

Now I realised I didn’t actually know what chamber music was, so Wikipedia came to my aid - Chamber music is a form of classical music that is composed for a small group of instruments, traditionally a group that could fit in a palace chamber or a large room.

Now there is, so far as I can tell, no specific Scottish chamber music beyond the fact that there was a time when it was particularly popular with Edinburgh New Town folk who had the necessary large room.

They don’t receive the only funding for Scottish chamber music but certainly the most at £225,000. To put it in context, this is well over twice as much as the entire funding for rock and pop artists.

Now I have no idea about the popularity of chamber music in Scotland, but only 7% of the population say they go to a classical concert at least once a year and that covers the full spectrum of classical music.

In the independent report for Creative Scotland from 2013/2014 it was noted that unlike other genres, classical music does not have a body lobbying for support. I should say that it doesn’t mention the same applies to rock and pop.

However, there is a feeling that there is no need for a body, as simply ‘being classical music’ is enough and the figures seem to bear that out.

Add the fact that classical music has some of the most generous benefactors and they are managing OK.

Some say it would be wrong for rock and pop as a genre to start aggressively competing with other forms of music, but that is exactly what is needed. Believe me, other genres would be fighting their cause at the slightest hint that the funding cake was going to be cut up any differently.

There is also a feeling that even what little is allocated to ‘popular’ music is done often to extend the support already given by the Youth Music Initiative.

Conspiracy theorists will note that the largest amount given to a rock and pop artist went to YMI alumna Be Charlotte to tour Asia - a strange decision for an artist with little profile outside Scotland and no album to promote.

What is concerning is that regular funding decisions are being made just now and it will be interesting to see if there is any change or if it is just the usual suspects getting the usual handouts.

As if this isn’t frustrating enough, with so much funding going to encouraging our youth to make music, the powers that be seem to have completely forgotten to encourage them to go to see live music.

All that YMI money could help small music venues by the back door if it was just used to do more to get young people to support small bands in small venues.

Privately those actually in the music industry often find ideas like having a mentor for being a DJ or giving young artists real experience of playing live by giving them a tour manager, tour food and tour bus, frankly ludicrous, but say nothing and will often even take part.

Without doubt it is hugely important that young people are given the opportunity to make music in a school environment, but once you take them out of that setting I’m not sure that the current approach is for the best and certainly if you are going to give people advice, at least give them good advice.

So often in the shop kids would come in having been given old of date or plain wrong advice and information.

Going back to arts funding really all you need to know is in this clip from Yes Minister “Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker discuss art subsidies” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvNw0P5ZMbA