For the past year or so, I've been given so much conflicting advice from people I know, work with and respect. It hasn't been about semiquavers or intonation (well, some of it has), but rather, about appearance. Clothes and appearance are of immense interest to me; not because I am naturally stylish or particularly opinionated about clothes (I'm neither) but because of the importance everybody else seems to place on it. For example: in the video/concert I did at the end of my residence at The Hospital Club, I wore a beautiful tweed suit from this crazy awesome tailor in Edinburgh. It was, and still is, a thing of beauty and I simply love wearing it. First comment? "You shouldn't dress like that, it makes your music inaccessible". Huh. So, the next time, I wore (fitted) jeans and a (black) shirt, following the advice of my enwisened critic. A new, founding member of the self-electing Peter Style Advisory Council approached me afterwards and suggested I was inappropriately dressed; not for the venue or occasion, but for my profession. "I'm rather used to classical musicians wearing dinner jackets and suits", she muttered.
So, I have found myself At A Big Ol' Crossroads.
I will never please the audience with what I wear, but I must strive to challenge them with what I play. Because of this, and because of there being no regulatory commission on Cellistic Uniform, I have decided that: to take pleasure and pride in the presentation of myself is the same as to take pride in the presentation of my music. "Enough" to the decade of dumbing down, to under presenting with the banal assumption that somehow jeans and t-shirts will win an otherwise sceptical audience. Have they seen Kanye or Mr Hudson recently? They move/roll with immaculate style and fluidity and their audience stick with them. Why? Because the audience believe in what they do. The shift from baggy jeans and bling to Saville Row and Rolex hasn't made rap inaccessible, it hasn't made it exclusive or posed a barrier; their ticket prices are rising due to demand. I'm not saying this is because they dress well, but they do the thing that matters, music, properly. The rest is detailing. This simply flies in the face of what We Believe in the classical world; to be well spoken, articulate and smart is to be exclusive, and that is bad. Why?! Is the search for excellence and sharing that passion such a crime? I love the idea that instead of selling off the shelf, we're all actually creating bespoke. It's about creating something that is relevant and something that has passion and dedication baked into the core, not just churned out quickly. I want people to appreciate the time and skill that went into creating what I create, not expect it quicker and cheaper.
Perhaps we need to start thinking about this more. If we're going to be acting bespoke, we need to be channeling it; we need to value our values, and like it or not, being a classically trained cellist means there is 300+ years or heritage, of cultural baggage, to carry with you. It is my job to keep that tradition alive, and to me that means whilst keeping the tradition as the backbone of my work, it doesn't mean using that tradition *as* my work. Again, it makes a difference.
So please, contemporary classical world. Let's not be acting like a petulant child. The "it's like we're in our usual, everyday lives here at the RFH" schtick is nonsense: you're in a concert hall. People have made an effort. Everyone has made an effort. It isn't good enough to pull the "oh, sorry, I didn't see you there" face when you stumble on stage, it's time to grow up again. Maybe three piece tweed isn't for everyone, but do you know what, I knew when I walked on stage that night that I felt prepared to share what I wanted to share, and as any performer/composer/actor/whateverer knows, that's the draining bit. We simply do not have the energy to engage people like that All Of The Time, so if it does nothing else, it marks that time in your mind as the time you spent five minutes choosing what socks to go with that shirt, or what tie works best with that jacket. I'm going to use Appropriate Dressing as my mental marker that I am there in the dressing room, about to take what I'm about to do seriously, I'm no just fumbling around in my studio at home. The two are, as you might expect, quite seriously different.