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Music and King Charles' Coronation pt.2

Members of The Band of the Grenadier Guards playing at King Charles' Coronation

There’s a great piece in the New York Times written by Dr. Imani Mosley which bares the subtitle of ‘How the sounds of this royal ceremony evolved, from the 10th century to Elizabeth II and her son’s coronation on Saturday’. As she clearly outlines, the music and the way it has been treated over the past 300 years has changed a lot, and has, in one sense anyway, moved with the times, and sought to include music which serves particular purposes. While so much has changed in Britain since the last coronation in 1952, the tradition of using European-styled classical music has not. The question is, why, in Britain in 2023, has this tradition not changed? It is, in large part down to the status and perception of European-styled classical music. In one sense, it (while often not explicitly stated) is regarded as the highest form of sound art that has ever existed. Pop, jazz, hip hop or Hindustani classical in their various guises have their place and ‘charm’, but when trying to evoke splendour, majesty and gravitas, tradition dictates that European-styled classical music in the form, of choirs, trumpets, hymns, organs, chamber orchestras and the like, must be the vehicle.

In Britain, European-styled classical music occupies the simultaneous position of both being accessible and inaccessible at the same time. It forms the basis of the formal music education young people have, and they hear it in adverts, movies and even embedded into their favourite video games. Simultaneously, learning an instrument and understanding it takes money and time which renders it increasingly inaccessible for many.

The role of European-styled classical music in the coronation also serves a similar function. It is accessible enough to the average person, who will no doubt witness the power of music to elevate an already expensive and grand occasion. Years of conditioning have made it so that we accept that the most high-profile family in the world must be accompanied by the ‘best’ music the world has to offer. The inaccessibility of it also serves the purpose of subconsciously letting the very same people know how far removed their lives are from the monarchy and the establishment. This article from Classical FM reveals King Charles III’s favourite music - all classical of course, inspired by his youth when he played the cello, trumpet and piano. If it was revealed that he was a big fan of Pink Floyd, Katy Perry or Drake, we ordinary folx might realise, that indeed, we may not be as different from them as The Institution would have us believe. Preserving the cultural distance between the monarchy and its subjects must remain intact for the system to function.

The wow factor in hearing and seeing European-styled classical music performed on this scale helps to preserve tradition by reinforcing the cultural distance between members of the public and the royal family. The music played at King Charles' coronation isn’t just a collection of incredible music to celebrate the crowning of a new monarch, it’s also a subtle instrument of power which can be easy to miss amongst the gold carriages and crowns and regalia.

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