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Music and the 'Middlebrow'

F G Lidstone, Popular Wireless, March 1, 1924.
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Our contributor replies to Mr Percy Scholes article on Music for All, and contends that fifty per cent of listeners-in are middlebrows.

In an article entitled Music for All, published in Popular Wireless a week or two ago, the BBC Music Critic, Mr Percy Scholes, set forth his opinion of the musical tastes of the broadcast listener.

Several of his statements - such as the one that there will always be diversity of musical tastes - go without contradiction It is evident that what Mr Sholes doesnt know about music certainly is not worth knowing. But if I, a humble broadcast listener listener, may say so, Mr Scholes has yet something to learn about the tastes of the people who listen to the broadcasting programmes.

Types of Listeners

In the first place, he bases all his arguments in favour of highbrow music on the assumption that listeners are divided into two distinct classes - the highbrow and the Lowbrow. This is wrong. There is another and greater class of listener - the middlebrow. I venture to suggests that if it were possible to take a census of broadcast listeners on the question of musical taste, it would be found to work out something like this: Highbrows 25 per cent, Lowbrows 25% and Middlebrows 50%.

A highbrow, as I interpret the word, is a person who refuses to recognise as music any composition that can be understood and appreciated without mental effort. The lowbrow is one who regards with scorn anything more edifying than "Yes, we have...", etc., and songs which centre around mammies, grannies, and intentions to return without delay to the place of ones birth.

Need for Variation

The middlebrows taste in music is broad. He will listen to Mozart or Beethoven with enjoyment. Puccini will give him pleasure; he likes a song or two about "roses" and "you"; the Rachmaninoff "Prelude" thrills him; an hour with the Savoy Dance Bands will not be at all out of place, and he likes to hear items rendered by good orchestras or military bands.

Give him a whole evening of jazz, mammies, cabin-doors, and "going backs" and he will protest. Confine an evenings entertainment to chamber music, and he will not like it. Broadcast a programme that includes something from each class of music, and he will be more than satisfied.

He is not highly educated, nor is he by any means ignorant. He is sufficiently broad minded to appreciate any class of music provided it is good in its way.

The Highbrows

I have estimated the percentage of highbrow listeners at 25%. Some will agree with me on that figure, but some will not. I do not suggest that only a quarter of the music lovers in this country are highbrows. I refer to broadcast listeners only. My contention is that the majority of people who really appreciate 'heavy' music (as distinct from those who pretend that they do to show their 'superiority') do not possess wireless sets, but look elsewhere to have their tastes satisfied.

I have in mind a particular family, all the members of which really enjoy this type of music. They will sit engrossed through a three-hour Bach recital. At home they have a cabinet gramophone and a big library of records, but they refuse to install a wireless set. Asked why, their reply will be, 'because!everybody has one'. With the gramophone, things are different. They can 'play' whatever records they like just when the fancy takes. With wireless, they would have to take what is given them, and the thought that the same entertainment is being sent out for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of other people of all classes doesnt please them. All highbrows are not snobs. But many are.

Increase of Middlebrows

As Mr Scholes remarks, the coming of broadcasting was the most important event in the history of music. And where would listening-in be if music did not exist? Broadcasting is going to do a wonderful lot for music. And music is going to do a great deal for broadcasting.

But I do not agree that listening-in will eventually make all Lowbrows into Highbrows. Rather will it make them into Middlebrows. The ranks of the latter class will also be swelled by the inclusion of as number of former highbrows. (I can almost hear the gasps of amazement at that statement !) But a moments consideration will make my meaning plain. Listening to the better-class music will incline the taste of the Lowbrow towards that of the Middlebrow. And, similarly, listening to the lighter kind of music will help the highbrow to appreciate that even jazz is music - and entertaining music at that.

The Ideal Programme

Even Mr Scholes himself is something of a Middlebrow - for did he not reveal the fact to us that he liked to listen to the Savoy Dance Bands before retiring to bed! And between you and me most Highbrows are Middlebrows at heart.

After all there will be, as Mr Scholes said a diversity of tastes in music and a totally Highbrow or Lowbrow programme will never be popular. It is always impossible to please everybody, but the nearest approach to that happy state of affairs in music is to be obtained by providing a Middlebrow programme with occasional High or Low brow items.

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