Are Britons actually really clued up about classical music?

They seem to come around more often than buses, and certainly more often than national censuses or general elections. Yes, it’s time for yet another ‘Brits are clueless about classical music’ poll. This one has got me even more annoyed at the way these things are reported than usual. Here are the opening paragraphs from the Guardian‘s report:

The British may be a nation of music lovers, but they are clueless when it comes to classical composers, a survey revealed today.

One in three people (33%) have never listened to classical music and 4% of those surveyed wrongly identified Bocconcini – small Italian cheese balls – as a composer.

So 67% of people do listen to classical music. Those aren’t bad numbers, surely. Especially for something that is dead and/or dying? And in fact even I had to do a double take on the Bocconcini question, especially since there was an Italian family of composers and performers called Bononcini. I’m not sure how much statistical value we can give to the responses to a trick question. (And only 4% got it wrong – good job, 96% of the country! Out of interest, I wonder how many people, if surveyed, could name a photograph of, say, Simon Cowell or Lindsay Lohan? About 4% may not be far off the mark. Would that be a story?)

There is also the fact that this is a poll conducted by the Reader’s Digest, so the polling group may be self-selecting, but scroll down to the bottom half of the article:

Most participants (61%) said they liked classical music, with the older generation much keener than the younger generation.

That 61% is a really remarkable number, and not one I would expect many doomsayers to repeat. If 61% of a given market like what you do, you’ve got a hell of a product.

Here’s an alternative headline for this story:

Most people like classical music. Some of them could learn a little more about its facts and figures.

Doesn’t sound as good though, does it?

(Cross-posted to Red Pen Blue Pen.)

6 thoughts on “Are Britons actually really clued up about classical music?

  1. Well inevitably bad news makes for better copy than good news! But I agree with you that the statistics-of-doom are actually quite good news when you turn them on their head. There are lots of those about the “decline” of the classical record industry.

    However if classical music is thriving in Britain, you have to say it’s somewhat against the odds. It doesn’t help with people like Radio 4 (supposed to be a bastion of the well-informed) – on Today they announced the death of the “composer” Sir Charles Mackerras, who, they said, was a Strauss specialist – so they promptly played a short clip of a cheesy J. Strauss waltz instead of the rather more substantial Strauss that Mackerras was actually known for *conducting*. Funnily enough they also announced the death of “composer” Sir Edward Downes a few months earlier.

    Oh also my otherwise broad-minded colleague asked me yesterday, when I showed him my voluminous classical mp3 collection, “ok but do you listen to any normal music?” – I had to laugh!

  2. Well, Today has to have some of the worst-informed arts researchers around. Plus John Humphries.

    In the BBC’s favour, on the other hand, I was very impressed when a piper was introduced on kids programme Zingzillas the other day with the words “These particular bagpipes come from Scotland [and not Turkey, the Balkans, Ireland, etc.]”. Maybe Today could borrow some resources?

  3. It may be worth considering the source here. The Guardian has become rather uppity as of late, I think. Too many compliments have been paid to them and it’s starting to go to their heads. On several occasions I’ve compared them to the U.S. mag Rolling Stone. Well, they may not be quite that bad when it comes to being full of themselves, but they’re headed in that direction, it seems.

    In short, I question the validity of the census.

  4. Two questions come to mind. First, why doesn’t the RD do a survey amongst the “general populace” to find out how their own publication stacks up? (I suspect the answer would be embarrassing for them.) Second, is the Guardian so desperate for newsworthy material that they have to print rubbish like that?

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