Class Conscious: Classic FM Coaxes Its Middle-Class Listeners to Take Life Gently

Article excerpt

How to move on, in middle age, from a youthful obsession with pop music? It becomes a social question as much as a strictly musical one. I've been trying to get into classical music for about 20 years now, but in all that time I have only ever found one "track" that I honestly like: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I also think that Beethoven's Sixth Symphony is quite good, although I would have advised him to knock it on the head about ten minutes before he actually did.

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Someone who seems to have made the social and artistic leap without any problem is Simon Bates, who in my youth presented the mid-morning weekday show on Radio 1, and now has a similar slot on Classic FM. His hallmark on Radio 1 was Our Tune, in which he would sympathetically narrate the story of some doomed love affair over gentle strings. Now, he sometimes refers to the classical composers in the same heart-rending tone: "Tchaikovsky was sent to a military boarding school [exasperated sigh] ... not the sort of treatment a sensitive kid like that needed."

I quite often listen to Classic FM while working. I find the experience intellectually flattering, in that although I am not familiar with much classical music, and know next to nothing about it, I have heard almost everything played on Classic FM. Hey, I think, this isn't such a steep learning curve after all!

The orientation is towards quiet and slow works. "There's such a mellow feeling around your Most Wanted this morning," purrs the female presenter of Most Wanted, a programme that constructs--by some unfathomable means--an instant chart out of listeners' online, phoned or texted requests. The tone of the show is somnolent or, at its liveliest, convalescent, and a typical listener dedication is: "To everyone who's in hospital." Even the newsreader sounds dazed, susceptible to dreamy ellipses: "The closure of the steel plant is part of a [pounds sterling]32 modernisation plan," he slowly, strangely intones. …