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The Power of Small

Posted by Sandra Wood on 25 May 2020

A lot of us have been thinking about what we miss during lockdown, and what would be the first thing we want to do as and when restrictions are eased. For me it’s not a trip to Durham, as lovely as the North East is. I miss really big musical gatherings – like En Contro streetband festival in Glasgow where Baybeat have played, the Various Voices festival with thousands of singers in Munich’s Gasteig, an orchestral concert with a ridiculous sized band like a Mahler or Penderecki Symphony.

However, what music has been (re)discovering in this time is the power of small. I very much enjoyed playing and singing with Anni and Erin to residents in Arnside Lodge care home through the window. The sessions we have been running online have seen community relationships continue and young people able to focus in new ways in smaller groups. Elsewhere, video recorded or streamed performances have been individuals, or families. Chamber music in a very real sense.

This rather goes against a lot of the recent tendency in the arts, to champion the “high profile”, the mass event, activity that focuses on numbers and reach. And indeed, when so many have been left outside traditional cultural activity, of course we should be thinking about the very many who have never been involved.

But it is now clear that other routes for a culture of the very many will be needed. In just a matter of 3 months it has become horribly obvious that ways of reaching people that require a lot of people to be all together in one place are not viable for the immediate and even mid-term future. Even with an injection of millions of pounds in to the arts and community activity. If the London’s Southbank is considering suspending work well in to 2021, just multiply that across the country.

The place to rebuild from will be the small, the authentic, the direct community contacts. It will be from a culture that really allows for diverse voices. It will find a way to articulate the importance of the bespoke and the intimate, and a way to quantify that beyond numbers on a spreadsheet. This is after all, the approach that More Music has long championed.

What we should not do is assume this is cheap, in any sense of the word. As much as I miss big gigs, powerful experiences can come in small packages. And really supporting intensive work on a very local scale country wide will still require considerable resources. But – changing the approach will really be something to look forward to post lockdown.

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