A reflection on public music libraries

There is a fascinating interview here with pianist Paul Lewis.

Paul Lewis was, I gather from this interview, a teenager in Huyton, just outside Liverpool, in the mid-80s. At exactly the same time, I was working in Liverpool. It was my first job, and I was living in Rainhill, just a couple of train stops down from Huyton. Paul Lewis, it appears, grew up in a working-class environment in what was at the time (as I remember well) an industrial wasteland of deprivation and of high unemployment. Mr Lewis’ own father was among the many who were laid off. And, Mr Lewis tells us, it was the public music libraries that opened up to him the riches of that musical tradition that is all too often labelled as “classical” and then sidelined from the mainstream, usually with such insulting epithets as “stuffy” and “elitist”.

I too, I remember, discovered these riches thanks to the public music libraries. (I wonder if I ever ran into the teenage Mr Lewis as I was checking out records from the public music library in Liverpool.) Sadly, this is where my resemblance to Mr Lewis stops. But reading this article, I cannot help but reflect that a teenager nowadays would have very little opportunity to get to know these riches from the local public music libraries, since most local public music libraries no longer stock music of the classical traditions: this is presumably because it is far too elitist to make the best easily available to everyone. And that is as it should be, because, heaven forbid, we don’t want to be elitist, do we?

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