‘With old age comes wisdom, patience, subtlety, and contemplation, said classical pianist, composer and writer Stephen Hough, ‘all qualities needed to appreciate great and complex music.’ He was commenting on a proposal by a symphony festival director that they should attract younger crowds, at the expense of older devotees to their concerts. (The Times, June 29, 2017). The idea was to make everything as casual as possible to attract younger audiences.

He was joined by violinist Nicola Benedetti (29), who was once BBC Young musician of the year. She was outraged at the suggestion, saying that older people make the best audiences. She said, ‘symphony performances are suited to an atmosphere of formality and respectful attentiveness, because there is an intensity to the music itself – and the fact that it’s not amplified means it’s up a certain volume that requires a collective focus. I think that’s an amazing thing.”

Now it’s the turn of the Royal Academy, whose chief executive, Charles Saumarez Smith, has said that even his own institution has bowed to the ageist trend of valuing young people more highly.[i]  He noted that a lot of pressure from organisations like the Heritage lottery fund is to get young audiences, but he added that it tends to be older people who have the leisure time and inclination to come.  ‘If I’m honest, institutions are in danger of what I …  notice is an element of age discrimination – younger people good, older people not so good.’  Even among the Royal Academy’s own hierarchy was a focus on the young and neglect of the older generation.’

Behind this ageist reasoning is the fear among institutions that they will lose their audience as the older generation dies out.  There’s a sense of déjà vu about this reasoning. Some churches have changed their music in order to attract the young, and have lost older members as a result, whereas the wise ones are encouraging a mix for all generations.  Many older people love lively music, but they also appreciate more reflective, and scripturally based hymns and songs.

And Who was it who reminded the rulers of the day that God was able to raise ‘sons of Abraham’ out of the very stones if He wished?

[i] Daily Mail, 2nd June 2018

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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