Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

d/Deaf and dumb

Music is no longer taught as music, but as social history or an exercise in building self-esteem

All my life I’ve wanted to compose music, and now I’ve done it. I’ve written a sonata for solo flute that boasts two highly original features; it’s five hours long and must be performed by a badger.

Though it took me only five minutes to write, my opus one is guaranteed to get through to the second round of the next competition for new composers sponsored by Sheffield University and the Centre for New Music. That’s because they operate a ‘two ticks’ policy, as the Scottish pianist Philip Sharp — possibly the only classical musician in Britain who calls himself a classical liberal — revealed in his blog earlier this year. This is how they describe it:

A ‘two ticks’ policy will be in place for female composers, composers who identify as BME, transgender or non-binary, or having a disability, to automatically go through to the second stage of the selection process.

I don’t tick the female, BME or disabled boxes. I’m not going to insult transgender people by slipping into a cocktail frock for the duration of the competition. But non-binary? No problem. I’ll just insist on being referred to as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’.

Sharp describes this policy as ‘staggeringly patronising… Composers who happen to belong to one of these select groups are given a pat on the back and a snide helping-hand by virtue-signallers of the worst kind.’

It’s not surprising, however. If you’re looking for virtuoso virtue-signallers, then classical music is the place to start. But right-on competitions are merely the gruesome fruit of something more deeply rooted: an intellectual culture poisoned by late 20th-century identity politics and postmodern verbiage. That’s a problem in other disciplines, of course, but at least artistic and literary pseuds attract mockery. It flourishes in university music departments because no one gives a toss what happens there.

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