I mentioned in passing earlier this month that I’d attended a seminar on commissioning opera. This was to mark the creation of Skellig the opera – with libretto by novelist David Almond and music by composer Tod Machover. One of the things I didn’t know before that day was that Tod Machover was also involved in the technology used in Guitar Hero, in his role at MIT. The new RSA Journal has an article by Tod about the creation of ‘personal instruments’ for opening up genuine musical creation (as opposed to Guitar Hero’s game-based application of the technology) for those without musical training. It’s particularly interesting to learn how it has been used to enable musical creation by people with physical impediments that mean traditional instruments are impractical. He also talks about the role of the youth chorus in Skellig and his aspirations for ‘a new model for the interrelationship between experts and amateurs in musical listening, performance and creation’.
He goes on to make an analogy with food and cooking which I think reveals more of a challenge than he suggests. He claims we ‘all’ have a food culture or ecology in which appreciating the achievements of experts – the Michelin-starred chefs and so on – sits happily alongside our own participation in both daily, improvised cooking expressing our personality and special occasion meals. Whilst there is evidence of that in some parts, there is also plenty of evidence that actually the distant relationship many have with the arts is mirrored in an even more dislocated relationship to food and cooking, with many people simply not eating well at all, losing the traditional skills and rituals associated with food – and the family and social capital that goes with it. I can’t imagine my life without either music or cooking – I get frustrated if I go too long without playing or listening to music or being able to cook - but there are many people who can. (And after all I did work as a chef for 6 years before working in the arts...) To create that healthy ecology in the arts we have to address some very big issues. (See Jamie Oliver’s ‘Ministry of Food’ work for just one take on this.)
The new RSA Journal, coincidentally, has another article that might give some clues as to why this is the case, Crossing the class divide by Lynsey Hanley. It’s worth a look.