Friday, January 04, 2008

File under esoterica: why I like Radio 3

Lyndsey Handley of NS explains so well:-

Radio 3 doesn't mean to be scary, I know it doesn't; it just happens to present a challenge to those unused to, or not schooled in, the music that it broadcasts. It exudes the kind of calm authority you don't know that people are capable of having until you enter a very particular, very rarefied world. There is a slightly queasy feeling of having arrived once it becomes your station of choice, which its programmes and presenters do both everything and nothing to dispel.

So - my musical education began with Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod's daily address, which, taken with Charles Hazlewood's Discovering Music (Sundays, 5pm), permits you to catch up with the aforementioned knowledge so you can enjoy the rest of the station's output. There's no denying that these programmes are necessary, if Radio 3 is to provide a public service for the musically curious in a climate of rigid incuriosity.

As long as music education barely exists in schools, poor Donald has to do the job himself. I love the way he savours the minutiae of his subjects' lives: it matches the fervour with which pop fans gobble up details of sock size and favourite foods, but information is used here as context, not trivia. You're invited to think about music as something that has a place and a time beyond the moment you first heard it - the soundtrack of the spheres, rather than the one to your life.

For me, listening to Radio 3 is about commitment in the sense of patient submission to the expertise of others. I must listen to a programme from the beginning, not join it in the middle. And a programme like COTW (Composer of the Week) takes a 7-day commitment because each day's hour-long broadcast builds on the next. Speaking of commitment, I wish they had more podcasts.

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