As well as catching up with relatives and friends, this year’s Christmas break has allowed me some time for reading. Thanks to some effective detective work, Amazon Marketplace and the Oxfam shop in Cambridge, I have been reading the Eric Coates autobiography “Suite in Four Movements”, (published by Heinemann in 1953 and now out of print).
In the second movement “Lento – Andante – Allegro” there are descriptions and tales of student life at the Royal Academy of Music which reminded me of similar experiences during my time at music college (not the incident with the revolver). During his time at the Academy, Coates was one of a few viola players and when I was at Leeds College of Music, I was one of a few percussionists. The circumstance of developing musical skills as one of a few meant being in demand for many different groups and ensembles but often having little time for your own work. Looking back, the experiences gained far outweighed such things as the technique not quite being mastered or the composition taking months longer than planned.
The opportunities these practical sessions gave were many. The repertoire performed was varied, from the standard/popular music of the age to new works by fledgling or student composers, ideal for a future performer to learn their trade. Intense rehearsal of the works gave an insight into how they were composed and orchestrated, listening to how each section of the ensemble was put together (from behind the percussion set up) was invaluable to me as a composer.
What concerns me now is that many of these practises in music education establishments are being lost, efficiency savings of staff and resources, rehearsing a small repertoire of work with a concert to aim for and not explaining the value of the sessions to the student musicians implies the experiences are far more limited. For both Coates and myself there were the openings to perform each day as part of timetabled sessions, this was the philosophy of the institution. Looking at the offer from many music courses today, there are far less opportunities for ensemble and group rehearsals that are led and directed by an experienced and respected musician than when we were learning.
The second movement of the book also describes the acquaintances met and friendships made during this period and some of the decisions made about how to obtain work. An insight into what is now described in business language as the 5 Ps of marketing; people, product, promotion, price, place. In my view of the music industry, there should be at least one R to go with all the Ps, respect.
Music making is still about people, even with the proliferation of personal technology, if there are audiences to win, groups to be formed or deals to be done, it is all about reacting with people. The inference from reading the book is that Eric Coates had a very affable, friendly personality that most people took to straight away and acquaintances (business and social) were easily made. He was also very confident in his own abilities and would go straight to the top if he needed assistance. An example of this was when he could not find suitable lyrics to set to music, he arranged to meet one of the most successful poets/lyricists of the time Fred E. Weatherly and from that meeting there continued a lifelong collaboration with positive commercial outcomes for both individuals.
During the hundred years from when Eric Coates was studying to the present day there have been many changes in the way music is packaged and delivered to an audience but the fundamental requirements of a musician have not changed. We should not loose sight of the practices that produced many of our great musicians, even if they do not fit into the same requirements as other subjects. We should encourage more music making, respect for musicians and eventually make the politicians realise the great value music has to society (and the country) so they can support and fund it properly.