The last reports from Arts Council England (ACE) on inequalities in the classical music profession is very welcome research. It includes a detailed data audit that draws on data from eight different sources that are not publicly available.
These include the National Children’s Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestras, as well as the results of a survey of nearly 1,000 musicians working in classical music, also presented in dashboard form to make the data more accessible.
The reports, written by market researchers ICM Unlimited and policy, research and communications specialists DHA Communications, are supplemented by an in-depth literature review.
Finally, an ACE action plan outlines nine actions they will take in response to the reports.
Monitoring a pipeline of musicians
There is a lot of useful stuff – for academics, policy makers, and interested readers – and some interesting new findings. Bringing these data sources together helps to track a pipeline of musicians moving from education to profession to some extent. This pipeline shows encouraging results regarding gender equality.
As in my previous research, more girls still learn instruments than boys at an early age. Then, as the opportunities become competitive, boys start to dominate and in positions of authority in the profession they are overrepresented. However, in these new data sources, this trend is less pronounced than previous research suggested.
On the other hand, the picture of class inequality is as striking as expected. Whether measured by parental occupation, parental participation in higher education, or attendance at a public / private school, the vast majority of classical musicians and the classical music workforce come from middle and upper class backgrounds, including those currently following elite training courses.
With regard to racial inequalities, we see that more young people from minority backgrounds follow training courses, but they remain under-represented in the working population.
Put the plan into action
The action plan includes measures to improve the quality and volume of data available and it is hoped that this data will be made available to researchers. Another intriguing step in the plan is an action research project in the Midlands.
Working with young people aged 15 to 25 from backgrounds under-represented in classical music, he will “test initiatives aimed at supporting those from wider horizons who seek to develop sustainable careers in classical music”.
In addition, ACE also states that organizations in this art form that apply for National Portfolio status in the next funding cycle will need to define how they will respond to this report, both individually and collectively.
Importance of disaggregated data
One of the main stories that emerges from the research is the poor quality and many gaps in the data available, even with the new data presented. A telling example is that throughout the data audit and the workforce survey, the results did not separate South Asian musicians from East Asian musicians.
As a result, the data audit indicates that the main group under-represented in classical music is Black Britons.
However, our next report for the Equality and Diversity in Music Studies Network, examining data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency from 2016 to 2020, found that Britons in South Asia are under-represented in higher music education and that in conservatories they are even more under-represented than black Britons.
The report therefore missed this important point by not being able to break down the data on racial inequalities in a more nuanced manner.
Who counts as a classical musician?
In addition, difficult decisions have been made as to who counts as a classical musician for the purposes of this research. The report defines classical musicians as those who play “instruments generally associated with the classical Western symphony orchestra”.
In the Labor Force Survey, this includes “the non-performing classical music labor force”, but in the data set, largely excludes singers, conductors, composers and keyboardists working. in classical music. This is a limitation, but it is justified given the paucity of available data.
Indeed, the investigative report is titled “A Study of the English Orchestral Workforce and Current Pathways to Joining It”, and this should be kept in mind rather than assuming that the research is about the classical music profession as a whole.
Gender set up as exclusion
Another critical point is the one which I hope will be at the center of the discussion on the actions to be implemented based on the report. In my book Class, control and classical music, I studied classical music groups of young people in the south of England.
The book describes how institutions of classical music were established in the 19th century by the middle and upper classes, sometimes as a means of exercising their status and forming a marker of prestige that demarcates who is part of the “respectable middle class”. And who are not.
As a result, the role of classical music in excluding the working classes is institutionalized in its practices and standards of performance, especially the long-term investment of time and money required to be able to play its instruments and instruments. its canonical repertoire.
In short, many aspects of the genre have been set up in an exclusive manner, and these exclusionary mechanisms are, to a certain extent, formalized in the aesthetic conventions that we have inherited today.
Diversity is a two-way street
It is a huge challenge to increase the access of the working class to any creative or cultural profession in the current conditions of growing economic inequality in the UK today. However, in the conversations arising from these reports, I would like to see more discussion of how the genre of classical music needs to change in order to diversify.
If more popular, black and South Asian musicians are invited to join the profession of classical music, how will its aesthetics, conventions, culture and performance standards open up to diversification to fully welcome this news? voice ?
Diversity needs to be a two-way street and so, as many have already recognized, the world of classical music needs to change in order to accommodate “diverse” newcomers, rather than waiting for new voices to emerge. assimilate to its existing conventions and culture.
Anna Bull is Senior Lecturer in Education and Social Justice at the University of York.