Leading Article: Don't let music become an elitist pastime

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The Independent Culture
THE PROMS began 103 years ago with the intention of allowing the masses to enjoy an evening's musical entertainment at a reasonable price. Today, the prices are still reasonable. But, on Monday a man interrupted an Albert Hall performance of Coursing by Oliver Knussen, which was also being broadcast on Radio 3, to shower the audience with leaflets proclaiming that the Proms are elitist and run by a cultural cabal.

The man in question clearly had a highly personal motive, but his act of agitprop provokes the realisation of a wider truth. Classical music in this country has become more, not less, elitist in recent years.

If you need proof (tired as it sounds, but bear with the argument) look no further initially than the price of concerts, state-subsidised or otherwise. Many tickets at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Glyndebourne, to name those with the highest profile, are all well beyond the pocket of your average punter - if they want to go.

But the erosion of peripatetic music teaching in state schools, for many years an opportunity for children from average backgrounds to learn to play one of the instruments in the classical tradition, means that the average punter is less likely with every passing year to take an interest. Even if things begin to change now, there is still an entire generation of school leavers who never had the opportunity to learn.

Also, radio stations where classical music is most consistently exposed, Classic FM and Radio 3, are running down their own product by packaging it in soundbite-sized, dumbed-down sections. And then only if it happens to be Mozart or the Carmina Burana.

Never mind "Roll Over Beethoven". Handel must be gavotting in his grave.