Corey Mwamba

rambles → #OneDayer preramble

#OneDayer preramble

I've been asked to join a panel at the hub's One Dayer conference in a couple of weeks, and was asked for some thoughts on the future and what it means for young audiences. And since it's me, those thoughts are highly discursive! And so...

Art and culture are, at their simplest, forms of information and communication. It would be easy to say that the ways in which we transmit, receive and interpret arts and culture have changed drastically, but I would say they have not. We still read, and make marks on surfaces; we still dance and act out scenes; we still make sounds and listen.

When I think about the stories of musicians and audiences that love the music, I hear three common themes: nurturing; recommendation; and discovery.

It's a mistake, I think, to fall into individualism when talking about younger audiences. Younger people are still connected to older people. That's how nurturing happens. Very young audiences are taken to things by older people. They then get to an age when they may want to go on their own. This grows or maintains an audience in music. For me, I remember listening to my parents' music. But at the time I didn't think of it as developing my listening. But my parents' tastes—whether I accepted it all or rebelled against it—nurtured me into listening to the music I now play and create.

As a young listener without the benefit of the Internet, I was still able to surround myself in music I had never heard before. The short-wave radio was a magic box of constant surprise. As a teenager I stumbled across a broadcast of a concert by jazz pianist Jessica Williams while trying to find a French radio station to practise for my listening exam. I learned more again from listening to the late Humphrey Lyttleton's radio show, which was on FM, but at a time when I was more likely to be awake to listen to it. That show became another friend giving me recommendations of music.

Later, I was able to hear the music live; and each time it was like nothing I had ever experienced from a recording. I could speak to the musicians afterwards, and discovered more about the music than I could from the tapes and books in the library.

The library was where I was able to select things I knew nothing about, and find out about things for myself, by myself. Getting a new tape was always a risk. It didn't matter whether I liked something or not: it was the experience of the thing that was shaping me. In this way, I was able to make jazz and improvised music my own.

With the widening of access to recorded music that has been gained by the Internet, we can recommend and share even more new music to others. But conversely it is harder to "stumble across" new music as our tastes and searches are filtered and refined by technology. We must be able to encourage and develop risk taking; and the future of presenting newer forms of music will rely more on developing that risk in listening, and this has to be totally accessible and available at home via radio and TV and in public spaces like libraries and schools; as well as having affordable concerts at reasonable times so that whole households can attend and experience new music.

In exactly the same way that the written word needs readers, music and the spoken word needs listeners; and yet while time and effort is spent cultivating reading, less time is spent developing listening.