It’s December, and that means that the annual classical music copywriting season is roaring away from the starting line. I’m a lucky to have a range of great clients, each with distinctive needs and preferences for their promotional copy. No two orchestras or promoters are quite the same, of course, and while some send their annual season brochures to print shortly after Christmas, others work on them right through to Easter.
That suits me fine: it gives me the chance to focus on each client individually, and really get into the swing of their preferred style and length. Some like their text bubbly and informal, others prefer a more specialist tone. Some have space for 100-150 words per concert; others need it all wrapped up in 60 words (copywriters always have to be mindful of the designer’s needs). Increasingly, clients want tweetable summaries too – a whole concert outlined in 140 characters. After writing a few bits of copy, in a certain style and length, it starts to flow – and before you know it you’re even writing Facebook updates and Christmas letters in zippy 70-word paragraphs.
It’s tremendously stimulating work, and it’s a privilege to get a confidential preview of what some of my favourite orchestras and venues are planning over the next twelve months. And it’s enormously rewarding to act as an advocate for some really glorious music-making. To have the chance to persuade thousands of people that they’ll love Glazunov’s The Seasons, to hear what a new conductor has to say about a Beethoven symphony, or to overcome their fears about Schoenberg.
There’s just one downside to writing these “blurbs” (as absolutely everyone ends up calling them). Months later, after the work’s been done and they’re all in print, they have a tendency to draw friendly fire. That’s summed up for me by the national critic who took issue with my 70-word summary of a performance of Verdi’s Requiem. Prompted by a friend from the non-classical world who habitually refers to all choral music (whether Tallis, Haydn or Orff) as “the death music”, I’d written that Verdi’s great, pulsing, blood-and-thunder blow-out “isn’t exactly what you expect from religious music”. “Over 40 years I’ve seen every one of Verdi’s operas” huffed this gentleman on Twitter, “and the Requiem IS exactly what I’d expect”.
But, but (as I tried to cram into 140 characters) that’s the whole thing about blurbs. I know that. You know that. You’ve seen every one of Verdi’s operas, and doubtless a Requiem a year for the last four decades. You don’t need to be told what to expect. In fact, you don’t need a descriptive blurb in a concert brochure or on a website at all. Like many really seasoned concert-goers, you’ll have been able to form a good idea of what to expect from the name of the piece and the listing of the performers alone. No piece of prose, however enthusiastic or erudite (or both) is ever likely to alter the well-informed judgment you’ve made for yourself.
That being the case, dear sir, does it not perhaps occur to you that…it might have been written for someone else?