In boarding school; back in the 1950s, I took piano lessons for a couple of terms. I was a lazy student, not prepared to spend my spare time practising.
My first encounter with the music teacher took place a year or two earlier when, during a music appreciation class, I was asked what classical composers I’d heard of. He scoffed when I named Strauss.
I’m not sure which Stauss I had in mind, but “The Blue Danube” was one of my mother’s favourite compositions, played on a wind-up gramophone in our cottage in rural England.
Back to those piano lessons. My teacher became so frustrated with my inability to get a particular passage right that he beat me over the head with his fists before storming out of the room.
He later attempted to make amends by awarding me the school’s music prize for the year.
In stark contrast to this cultural snobbery, several of us were pleased when a couple of younger members of staff discovered and encouraged our love of “Modern Jazz”, arranging for a group of us to attend a concert by “Jazz at the Philharmonic”.
The bill included Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Petersen and the incredible Ella Fitzgerald.
Of course, jazz, like all genres, had it’s cultural snobs who found it hard to accept rock and roll and everything that has followed in its footsteps from “Progressive” rock to Hip-Hop.
Literature, too, has it’s snobs. People who sneer at “Chic-Lit” as my parent’s generation did at “sloppy romances”.
The study of the great composers helps to inform the understanding of all forms of music, from folk to blues and beyond.
So too the study of literature is invaluable in developing an understanding of diverse cultures and an ability to appreciate different approaches to life.
When the same government chooses to do business with authoritarian regimes in preference to it’s democratic neighbours, it demonstrates an unhealthy respect for totalitarianism.
A worrying proportion of the members of that government are too young to remember a man called Pol Pot who decided that food production was more important than studying and sent professors into the paddy fields on pain of death.
A generation that is denied the opportunity to study literature, or attend opera, is unlikely to learn the lessons of such horrors. And that cannot be good for democracy, even the broken version of it that prevails, now, in England.