Gareth Malone: "Classical music is best. End of."

At the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards last Tuesday, keynote speaker, TV Choirmaster Gareth Malone really got into his stride towards the end of his speech, asserting the superiority of classical music. Here’s the key extract:

“I firmly believe that classical music is best. End Of. It’s better than the rest, I believe. It’s more complex. It’s got a richer history. And It’s just great. There. I said it. It’s better than folk. It’s better than drum ‘n’ bass. And it’s better than rap – er – isn’t it? I think, I think.. What do I know, I’m just some guy off the telly […] I suggest that we send a message of confidence to the public about classical music […] Just letting people know that we lead the world in this.”

This is disappointing – Gareth Malone has done a lot to promote community and social cohesion through music, but the assertion that one kind of music is “better” than another does make me instinctively want to stand up on behalf of the others, those degenerate musicians, or Entartete Musiker, as they were once known.

This extract comes 1’01 into the podcast, which will remain available online on BBC iPlayer until May 19th.

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11 replies »

  1. All right! Debate time
    This whole 'one style of music (usually classical, but jazz can hardly – lets be honest – be let completely off the hook) always irritates me. I'm not in music for a high-art v low-art as thats hardly the point. I can't believe he's listing styles that classical music is better than (sidenote: some of the most disciplined musicians I have ever come across are electro and hip-hop producers). I mean, there are certain styles I like more than others, but its hard to say one is better than the other as these musical languages operate in different ways (thats why it's always interesting to experiment with combining disciplines/styles). I think it's important to get kids excited about classical music. I also think it's important to get them excited about jazz, about punk rock, electro, Scandinavian folk, black-metal, whatever labels lazy journalists have used to describe music over the years. That quote, I reckon will come back to haunt him, and it'll do a lot more harm than good. It's gonna do nothing but re-enforce the stereotype that classical music is for stuffy narrow-minded and out-of-touch types.
    You dig?

  2. This is just one guy's opinion, no point in even getting worked up about it in any way whatsoever. The world is still spinning

  3. Yep. Also, French cuisine is the best as it has the most complex sauces and longest history. So we should all eat that most. Err, hang on…

  4. I've heard this rhetoric many times and it seems to me that all genres of music influence, borrow and cross-polinate eachother to some degree anyway.

    Our group “Doctor Gradus” is certainly no exception as all our music is based on classical works which we re-mould into the jazz genre. Would I therefore support Gareth and claim that somehow what we're producing is better than music of any other kind – I think not.

    Ultimatley; every listener either has some resonance with a piece of music they hear or not and no matter how much you preach that one kind is better than another, they will vote with their ears.

  5. I'd like to challenge Gareth to improvise. To make the music live and breathe in the moment. To express himself without someone else writing the notes that do it for him.

    However, I still wouldn't say jazz is 'better' than classical music or anything else. It's a personal thing t'in't it? Whatever one connects with the most is best for and different to the individual. His ears just aren't as quite good as a jazz fan 🙂 Poor bugger. This week I have mostly connected with Wayne Shorter, Elbow, Shirley Horn, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, Tears for Fears, Beyonce and Dr John. Go figure. Personal taste.

  6. Music is all about context as is after dinner speaking. I think this comment was perfectly apt given the gathering, the mood , the occasion and best not regarded as a pronouncement.

  7. Every type of music or, better, every piece of music you hear, requires a particular way of engaging with it. If you only engage one way, as it seems the speaker does, nothing else will ever measure up. I appreciate he was doing some kind of begging speech on behalf of his own little corner, as we are all apt to do…all corners are by definition small…but that's what happens when things get tight, and we are all turned against each other. And…oh dear…”lead the world”? Not really mate.

  8. In his BBC Reith Lectures a few years ago, Daniel Barenboim said, in answer to a question from Julian Joseph, something along the lines of, “Jazz is the highest form of art.” I don't remember if he added much qualification to that.

    (and what Liam said…)

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