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RPO research highlights music education as key to diversification and inclusion

A series of surveys has shown that lockdown increased interest in orchestral music but that education is key to attracting more diverse participation

Each of the surveys carried out for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) by the international research company Maru Blue spoke to 2000 members of the public at different points throughout the last 18 months and showed that music in general but especially orchestral music played an increasing role in alleviating stress and providing entertainment.

Despite the closing of venues, the number and listening hours on classical music stations increased by around 5 percent. 22 percent of respondents said they listened to orchestral music to help concentrate while they worked, particularly as so many were working remotely. 20 percent said they relied on it for inspiration and to lift spirits and 10 percent said it helped them sleep. Interestingly, that last statistic doubled for the under 35-year-old group and the geographical reach of orchestral music increased, showing a clear need for better access beyond the cities.

With concert halls reopening, the RPO was particularly keen to find what was needed to capitalise on the increased interest to orchestral music.

As James Williams, the RPO’s Managing Director observed, ‘The figures from our research point towards a broadening and diversifying of the audience and greater engagement from young people. Digital platforms had an important role to play as a signpost to discovery, as did classical music radio. Some people learned a musical instrument, whilst others learned about the genre.

‘The irony here is at the very time when many venues and ensembles faced a threat to their existence, consumers were engaging with the genre more than ever. As we re-emerge from Covid-19 restrictions, now is the time to understand the well-being lifeline the genre gave to so many. We require investment in concert venues across the UK and support for our orchestras, so that the growth in public engagement with orchestral music can be sustained going forward.’

To achieve this, the report makes it clear that ‘education is key’, particularly in attracting more diverse participation. ‘Ethnic minority respondents differed from the national average in that a higher proportion identified education as a route to musical discovery.’ 20 percent of BAME respondents said that music needed to be taught as a core subject in schools, five percent above average. 23 percent said children needed the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, again five percent above the national average.

As the report concludes, ‘This outcome demonstrates that education is the foundation of the musical ecosystem, the platform from which individuals start in their lifelong journey of musical discovery and is a key part in ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce and audience in the future. In short, it all starts in the classroom.’

Vasily Petrenko, the RPO’s Music Director, said, ‘On the surface, as our research shows, it has never been easier to pursue an interest in a genre, with technology bringing down costs and increasing access. However, a sustained commitment to inclusion and diversity needs to address underlying issues of access to live music across the UK and music education. Currently, now more than ever, there is a real need for investment to drive meaningful change.’

Read the full report on the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s website