Calling all musicians and music lovers, not to mention everyone else who wants to retain their hearing. Michael made a programme for Radio 4, broadcast on Tuesday December 4 2012 at 16:00 showing how the misdagnosis of a virus from a common cold can lead to permanent hearing loss.
How the 9 million people in this country (yes – that's 9-10% of the population) who wrestle with hearing problems but do not get amplification could be risking other cognitive impairment and even dementia, according to the latest research.
How (yes, you have guessed) the level at which we listen to music (particularly on ear buds and particularly distorted pop sounds) is, according to the leading researcher in the field) "a time bomb of hearing loss".
Michael made this programme purely because if he can help stop just one person from undergoing the hearing loss he suffered (through GP ignorance of the subject) it will have been worthwhile.
It is ultimately a redemptive, if frightening, programme because composers can write from their head but also because the brain has the plasticity to re-wire, re-process the hearing of music and filter out distortion and especially if its owner is a musician.
Michael Berkeley writes in the BASCA house magazine, The Works, on the vanishing sources of commissioning money for composers
Presenting the British Composer Awards gave me the chance to highlight a subject that causes me considerable concern and should worry composers and publishers throughout the country.
In a time of economic austerity the arts are, of course, going to have to share the pain of diminished funding as is everything else, though one might argue that never have the arts been more needed.
Having been on both sides of the commissioning fence (composer and assessor) I feel that the ability to support the creation of new work, especially for young composers, is a vital part of our cultural life.
The fact is that, even without the cuts, commissioning money has deteriorated in the last few years by quite staggering proportions; indeed as much as 70 per cent in some cases.
What are the main sources of funding for commissions?
- For many years the Arts Council was open to a wide variety of applications from performers and festivals. It now operates a policy in which it helps to commission largely through its organisational clients like orchestras and opera houses. The onus is on these 'clients' to choose their composer (as opposed to the distinguished panel who made sure that all kinds of music were considered and over a wide geographical area). Money from that panelís pot has been devolved to the Regional Arts Associations but they have inconsistent and often incoherent policies on commissioning, so much of the original and quite considerable amount has simply washed away.
- Trusts, like the Britten-Pears, the Vaughan Williams, the Holst and the Hinrichsen have been generous sponsors of new music. However VW and Holst are moving to a cessation of their copyright terms. BP has diminished hugely its commissioning budget and is unlikely to return to the very significant patronage of a few years ago.
- The BBC is therefore now one of the main commissioners, largely for the Proms and its orchestras, and its commitment remains strong, according to Andrew Kurowski who is in charge of contemporary music at Radio 3. But everyone knows that the BBC is under huge financial pressure and commissioning will, like everything else, come under considerable scrutiny.
- There are foundations like Paul Hamlyn (which gives just a few but very significant bursaries) and the PRS.
On the whole, therefore, a huge swathe of commissioning money has already gone and what is left tends to be focused on a small group of exceptionally talented and established names. That is important but it tends to reinforce the status quo and leaves nowhere to go for groups who want to take risks and commission up-and-coming but relatively unknown composers. Even a group like the Nash Ensemble is unable to commission as it has in the past and as it should and would like to in the future.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to find that I have infuriated some mandarin into writing a riposte disputing what I say. I would so love to be proved wrong but my experience at the coal face leads me to believe that we are in very worrying times for composers and that we need to make our voice heard. I hope BASCA will lead the way.