Against a dark image of stack of CD jewel cases, text reads, CMIC 2019 - Notes from the second annual classical music industry conference
Against a dark image of stack of CD cases, text reads, CMIC 2019 – Notes from the Second Annual Classical Music Industry Conference.

On 13th November, I travelled down to London for the 2019 Classical Music Industry Conference (CMIC) at Wigmore Hall and Middlesex University. The event was organised by Chris Dromey and Julia Haferkorn of the Music department at Middlesex University and sponsored by PRS for Music. Attended by a mixture of practitioners, industry professionals, executives and academics, it aimed to ‘discuss and scrutinise the classical music industry in the contexts of music-making, business practices, mediation, politics and education’.

Diversity and inclusion were hot topics on the day, with a dedicated session on accessibility, a panel discussion on understanding inequality in classical music, and a session on opera with an overarching focus on diversifying the artform. While few presentations were dedicated to disability in particular, there was food for thought in many of the central threads of discussion.

In my presentation, I talked about the prevalence of ‘cripping up’ or disability mimicry in contemporary opera production. I explained how the representation of disability in opera follows a set of representational patterns, serving as a tool for the reinforcement of stereotypes, a vehicle through which to shore up ideals of normality, or as a way in which to gloss over the realities of disability as a lived experience. I ran through a few disability stereotypes that we find in opera narratives, before moving on to consider how the representation of disability in opera is complicated by live performance? In 2019, lively debates about so-called ‘cripping up’ or disability mimicry are becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly in relation to Hollywood portrayals of disability. Here’s an interesting example from actor Adam Pearson:

In opera, the reliance on disability mimicry is striking, but conversations surrounding this problematic practice are lacking. I’ve written a bit about this here, and I’ll be working on expanding some of this material in the coming months.

Also in the session on opera were Nicholas Boyd-Vaughan of the National Opera Studio and Elaine Kidd from the Royal Opera House. Nicholas introduced the NOS’s Diverse Voices programme, which is working to address barriers to participation in the opera sector for BAME singers, focussing on supporting those who wish to pursue a career in the industry. As Nick explained, not all professional sings come through a ‘traditional’ conservatoire system, and more importantly, diversity in the industry not only means diversity on the stage, but also in opera leadership roles. Elaine echoed some of these ideas in her presentation on what we mean when we refer to operatic ‘talent’ today. In her role as the leader of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, Elaine observes a ‘problem in the pipeline’ whereby contemporary opera companies can become complicit in a system that overlooks people from certain backgrounds and with certain abilities.

There certainly appears to be a lack of guidelines for accessibility measures in UK arts organisations, as Gregory Moor outlined in his paper on ‘Accessibility and Outreach for Arts Organisations’. His project at the University of Leeds looked at the role of technology in preparing neurodiverse audiences to enter unknown arts performance spaces. Gregory looked into the use of VR and AR to tackle the way in which (as one of his interviewees suggested) accessibility is treated as an afterthought or even a marketing tool by arts organisations. He revealed that, by recreating a virtual model of a theatre’s physical space through 3D modelling, individuals were made to feel more at ease when entering new situations and spaces. By focussing access measures on target audiences (as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach) and involving that audience in the devising process for access measures, accessibility can, in itself, become a form of outreach.

Many of the speakers at the conference talked about how both participation in and consumption of classical music is heavily stratified by ability, class and race. Whilst a few people suggested structural and aesthetic solutions, questions remained as to why these patterns persist. For me, the biggest take-home of the day was the idea that conversation is a good first step, but it does not always result in structural change. Further to opening up dialogues within an academic context, there is a need for engagement, cooperation and collaboration between researchers and industry professionals.

Find out more about the conference here.

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