The arts and anti-establishment scoundrels

By Jill Segger
March 3, 2017

As a direct result of Britain's decision to leave the EU, an internationally acclaimed orchestra is leaving Britain due to uncertainty as to the residency rights of its foreign players. The European Union Baroque Orchestra, which is based in Oxfordshire will relocate to Antwerp in May.

Emma Wilkinson, the orchestra's manager, fears other British-based orchestras may soon follow suit and that British musicians may find working in the remaining EU nations difficult while the Brexit negotiations take place.

The response of UKIP was predictable. A piece in UKIP Daily decided that this has “nothing to do with the people of Stoke and Copeland.” Arron Banks tweeted “I'm sure that Labour voters in Stoke are devastated that a EU funded orchestra is leaving the UK.”

This kind of reverse snobbery is not new. But it is perhaps being put to a new use in our increasingly divided society. The assumption that working class people are incapable of finding joy and inspiration in the arts is not just patronising and insulting, it is active exploitation of a deformed identity politics.

Like many of you who read this, I was born into the working class and educated into the middle class. That education was in no small part due to my family's love of music, literature and painting. We read poetry cantoris et decani around the fire on winter evenings, the music of brass bands and local choral societies sounded in my childhood aural memory and we would take long and often exhaustingly complicated journeys by bus and train to visit art galleries. The life-giving, even possibly life-saving, qualities of lining the heart and mind with as much as possible of the greatest which had been thought and written was impressed on me from an early age. “Learn poems by heart”, my father once said to me; “if you were to be put in prison they would not let you have books.” This was not an idle fancy. We were a family acquainted with the consequences of conscientious objection.

As politicians on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly see the dividing of communities and individuals as advantageous to power's pursuit and tenure, we must find means of building up what they would tear down. Communities will be well founded when they find sources of common joy. It is when we encounter something which takes us beyond ourselves and our circumstances, transfigures the commonplace and gives us what the Society of Friends call 'openings', that we are perhaps most authentically human. That moment of “ what – you too? I thought I was the only one...” is a powerful tool for equality and justice as well as for personal enlargement.

My own leanings are perhaps more towards music and literature than to the visual arts (but I have maps) and I trace my journey through the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens and Bach. There have been singular moments of revelation in Arnold Bennett and Gustave Flaubert and a continuing tumble of challenge in Schoenberg, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Geoffrey Hill. Only once did I hear the  bum note of this not being for my station in life. But it did not echo for long because I learned that great art both transcends the conceits of small minds and celebrates a humanity which is recognisable wherever truth keeps the eyes wide. This is our common wealth.

Never let scoundrels in anti-establishment guise deceive you. Give us bread but give us roses.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen















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