Classical music has played a major factor into the evolution of music and its genres with its ability to add aesthetic and emotional value to the human experience.
The UK’s classical music scene also plays an active part in cultural life and communities supporting creators, performers and a network of venues, music publishers and record labels. It also plays an important role in music education and the work in health and social care, particularly for people with dementia.
Increase in classical music streams. From 2017 to 2019 the number of people who streamed classical music on Spotify increased by 42%.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown, classical streams by younger listeners continued to rise.
Nationwide joint report commissioned by Deezer, the BPI and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), found that between February and April 2020, Deezer’s global plays of classical music among 18-25-year olds grew by 11% year-on-year.
RPO’s research found that under-35s were also the most likely age group to listen to orchestral music during lockdown with 35% of respondents felt listening to orchestral music during lockdown had helped them relax and maintain a sense of calmness and wellbeing. A further 18% said the genre had lifted their spirits in isolation.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic has also put the classical music community under threat. Concert halls closed, festivals cancelled, and months of income lost – for many musicians and composers Covid-19 lockdown had life-changing consequences.
As a result of the lack of opportunity to travel and perform UK musicians have lost an estimated £13.9m in earnings, according to a Musicians’ Union survey.
The PRS Members’ Fund aims to raise awareness of the lack of support within the classical music field and where to find the financial help that is available for PRS classical composers.
Before the lockdown, the Fund interviewed composer and violist Sally Beamish:
“I always wanted to be a composer, in fact I’ve been composing since I was a very small girl, but it didn’t occur to me that this was something I could do to earn money. So, I tried to think at the best way to keep myself alive while I was composing, and it seemed that playing the viola was a fairly safe bet.”
During her career Sally had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with many composers as Oliver Knussen, Luciano Berio and Peter Maxwell Davies: “It was very difficult to keep composing while freelancing with the viola, but what I didn’t realize was that I was making some important connections and I got all free lessons and encouragements. This made a difference, more than just being told ‘yes, you are a composer’”.
Do you think it’s harder to be a woman composing classical music in a world historically dominated by white male composers? Are there difficulties in getting commissions?
“It didn’t really occur to me that this was something that was different or challenging, I suppose there was a lack of role model when I was a child. I remember latching onto Clara Schumann because she was the only woman I thought wrote music and I decided she was going to be my role model.”
“I don’t think there’s any difficulty in getting commissions, I’ve always had a steady stream of commissions and I think it’s connected to being a player as well. I think what it is a challenge for women is self-confidence, because we don’t have the role models. The word composer is still associated in people’s minds as being male, I think that’s even the case for women. Someone says composer and you immediately have the image of a white male and we all need to get rid of that, because it’s just not true. There have been women composing through the centuries, what’s happened is that they haven’t been remembered because they haven’t gone into the canon of music and in the history books. It’s so exciting that some of them are coming to light again, someone like Barbara Strozzi who was very famous and one of the most prolific composers of her time. We can find these people again now and build up a canon of composers that includes women. I think it will have a major impact on women who are writing now.”
How did you hear about the PRS Members’ Fund?
“My family and I were helped by the Fund when we first moved to Scotland. We moved to a sheep farm and didn’t realise that there was a sheep dip which was spilling into our water and our air. We all became ill. It was difficult because we had no idea what was wrong with us and it had a major impact on our lives. Once we realised what was happening we had to move to a new house very quickly obviously. We had developed chemical sensitivity and there was a very old oil central heating system which was making us feel ill. The PRS Fund stepped in and replaced our central heating which was just the most practical and invaluable way of helping us.”
How has the Fund helped you and in what way did it improve your life?
“Having made our life situation possible, being able to continue creating and earning a living without having to worry about finance as we would have done if we hadn’t had help, that was extremely important. The other impact that the whole episode had on my life was that I had to take all the work that came in and wrote a lot more music than was sensible, but on the other hand I built up quite a healthy catalogue.”
Provide something short and inspirational to your fellow composers.
“I would advise all composers to keep performing or at least to meet performers and get a feel of their world. Last year I went on tour with an ensemble to play a piece of mine and I remembered how it feels to be with a band, what they have to do and how they have to be ready for every concert. It’s great being a composer because if you’re late with the deadline you can just work all night, you can work when you feel it, while as a performer you have to produce the goods at that precise moment. It’s good to be reminded of that. I think we all have moments in our life when things are really a struggle, in particular for composers, it can be really hard as a creative soul. I’d like to remind you that there is help out there and I’d encourage to just reach out and ask for help, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Before the pandemic started to take its toll we also filmed the interviews with classical composer and violist Sally Beamish, and classical and media composers Paul Patterson and Nigel Hess, who are also two of our trustees.
The interviews are included in a short film, which you can watch by clicking here.
We wish to thank Sally, Paul, and Nigel for taking part in the filming and sharing their experiences with us. We hope these messages will help other fellow writers who are experiencing hard times to find the courage to get in touch with us.
This is your Fund, for you.