OK – let me come clean. My appetite for classical music is strictly limited. If I know the symphony (not many of those) or overture (more likely) or concerto or whatever it is, I can usually sit and enjoy it. But if it’s new to me, my bum’s comfort wins out over my musical appetite. And another thing – I’m not mad about the Ulster Orchestra calling itself the Ulster Orchestra, any more than I’m mad about the University of Ulster (now the Ulster University – spot the difference? Nah – me neither) or Radio Ulster, when what all three mean is Northern Ireland. If the Ulster Orchestra gigs regularly in Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, my apologies.
That said, the fact that the plug is about to be pulled on the Ulster Orchestra raises my hackles more than a bit. Because music, whatever its nature, has the potential to reach parts of the soul that nothing else can. It’s like drugs – you don’t know why it makes you feel this way but you like it and you keep coming back for more. So why not listen to it on a CD or a download or whatever? Because recorded music is to live music as a riot on your screen is to a riot outside your front door: the difference is qualitative.
In the end it’s a question of priorities. You might say that it’s more important to keep the health service going than to keep an orchestra going. True. But is it more important to keep weapons of mass destruction going (you’re paying for them, you do know that?) or tanks or bazookas or rockets or the rest of the menu of death going than it is to have music played which at times can ravish the soul? Sometimes people selling the arts try to do it on a commercial basis: it brings tourists, it enhances international reputation, it encourages investment, blah blah blah. Codswallop and horse-shit. Music and the arts generally exist and should go on existing because they feed the parts of us that make us most human. Explain, in some weird way, why we’re here and what it means. Or struggles to do so. Listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – you know, the one they play as the European international anthem – and tell me that’s a fiddly optional add-on that nobody would miss.
That, in my confused way, is why I’d like to smash a cello over the head of people who are intent on killing a local source of joy and pleasure and wonder. I know classical music is a minority taste but it still matters. It’s like saying Shakespeare isn’t wildly popular so let’s scrap the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Ulster Orchestra is part of our armoury of the soul, and to blitz it is to blitz away part of all our souls. They’ve a Facebook page, you know. Save the Ulster Orchestra. Hurry there and throw your support behind them. Even if like me your bum gets sore after too much classical music, they’re still part of the good stuff in life as distinct from the poisonous stuff in life. So just do it.