Victoria Wood | My Music: ‘I think it’s a big problem if the only people who have access to music lessons are middle-class’

Gramophone
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The comedian and playwright on the need for music education and her love of choirs

Classical music is a big presence in my life; I listen to it all the time. I did O level and A level Music and, of course, I’ve been exposed to much more since then. My piano-playing these days, though, is minimal and sporadic. I can read music, I can play, and I think having some kind of musicality absolutely helps with comic writing. Everything you write has to have a rhythm and that’s why I always ask people to stick to the lines I’ve written and not rewrite them, because I hear them in my head and they have to deliver a certain ‘oomph’. So it all comes back to music. If you’re doing voices, there’s a musicality there.

Jokes work only when they’re done to a certain rhythm, and when you meet someone who can’t tell a joke it’s usually because they’ve got no sense of rhythm. In the past I’ve had a group of people I’ve worked with regularly, and as we all have our own way of working it’s more fun when you find those who work your way.

‘There’s no respect for the audience in the way that a concert starts and the way that a conductor comes on silently. Why not come on and say, “Hello, this is what we’re going to play,” and maybe tell us a tiny bit about it, and then get going?’


I do go to concerts but the bulk of my listening is from the radio and CDs. I find the concert experience quite a chilly environment and really get irritated with women orchestral players coming on and putting their handbags down by the side of the chair – there’s no theatricality there at all! I think it would be so much better if they all came on together and sat down at the same time instead of chatting, putting their hair-slides in and tugging at their cardigans. If you’re going to do that then put a curtain down and then raise it when they’re ready to start. We’ve paid to see something and I expect more. There’s no respect for the audience in the way that a concert starts and the way that a conductor comes on silently. Why not come on and say, ‘Hello, this is what we’re going to play,’ and maybe tell us a tiny bit about it, and then get going? It seems we’re almost excluded as audience members. Also, I’m not good at sitting still. I always want to get up and walk about. So I suppose I really do prefer listening at home.

Both my kids are musical: one’s training to be an opera singer and the other one works for a music producer, so music is their life, really. I didn’t push it, but it was always something we did together. We’d sit and sing songs, and I’d make up songs at the piano for them. And they both played instruments when they were little.

I think it’s a big problem if the only people who have access to music lessons are middle-class. It’s the same with acting – if the only people who can afford to train are middle-class people then that’s a shocking thought. We just won’t continue to have the theatrical heritage that we’ve had up till now.

At the moment I’m more drawn to choral music, because my daughter was a choral scholar at Cambridge and I was exposed to a lot of her work. And I love Bach – I’m listening to all the Advent cantatas in the kitchen. I love voices – and I also love brass.

I suppose I love ensemble music, too… I used to play the trumpet in a military band. It’s very special making music in a group and I love that there’s a real buzz about choirs going on at the moment. I wrote a musical about a choir that was put on in Manchester a couple of years ago – it was about a children’s choir recording Nymphs and Shepherds and was set in 1929. As I say, choirs are very ‘in’ right now, and it’s great for people when they can just sing in a group. There’s something wonderful about it – the physicality, making a noise together. It does an awful lot for you, singing with other people.

This article originally appeared in the Awards 2013 issue of Gramophone. Never miss an issue of the world's leading classical music magazine – subscribe today

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