Sunday, April 15, 2012

Can you be the wrong age to sing?

Here in the UK the arts seem to cater for just three age groups.

young and old

Photo by vintagedept

If you don’t fit into one of these, then woe betide you!

the three ages of man

The groupings are:

  • 16+ – “young, but not too young, maybe in your 20s”
  • family friendly – “suitable for very young kids (with their parents)”
  • over 50s – “past it, probably in your 70s, like to sing ‘White Cliffs of Dover’”

over 50s

My partner joined a really great dance class recently. It’s not just about steps or technique, but also covers creative self-expression. It’s rare to find these kinds of classes. There was a two-day version of something similar recently which we both went to, but it was about 60 miles away and we had to stay over.

Both the workshop and classes are a stretch and challenge for anyone, whatever your age or experience. But they’re billed as “for the over 50s”. I guess it’s because it ticks some kind of funding box.

too young?

People have rung up about joining my choirs in the past. They’d love to come, but they’re ‘only’ 16, is that OK? I had two 8-year-old girls in a one-day African workshop I ran. They were the best at everything and ended up demonstrating the songs and dance moves to everyone else!

family friendly

There was an amazing French dance company that we saw locally last year. The show was a really exciting blend of music, dance, physical theatre, comedy and percussion. It’s hard to imagine anyone not finding something to enjoy. But when we went, most of the audience was young kids with a few adults accompanying them. How come? Because the show had been billed as a “family friendly children’s show”.


In London a few years ago there were some great theatre and mask workshops. They were run by someone with an international reputation who is in great demand. I jumped at the chance to attend. I didn’t notice that I was probably twice the age of anyone else in the class, and and age didn’t matter at all to taking part.

But it had been billed as “for 16+”. If I had known that I would probably have cried off thinking that it was going to be full of lithe young whippersnappers that I couldn’t keep up with.

stereotyping can put people off

Yes, I know these categories are stereotypes, but we all fall for it.

If a friend hadn’t personally recommended the dance class to my partner, she would have been put off by the “over 50s” tag.

If we hadn’t got discount tickets for the dance show and just read the publicity, the “family friendly” tag would have put us off.

If the 8-year-olds’ father hadn’t rung me up to check that they could attend my ‘adult’ workshop, we wouldn’t have had such a fun day and learnt so much.

If I had read the small print of the mask workshop, I might never have gone.

where do you fit in?

What is it about age discrimination in this country??!! I’ve written before about how young people and special interest groups seem to get all the funding (see The lost generation of singers – why no provision for the under 50s?). If you don’t fit into any of these neat funding categories (as the majority of us don’t), then you’re not really directly provided for.

What’s it like where you are? Does this only happen in the UK? Have you been put off by categories such as “family friendly” and “for 16+”? Do leave a comment and share your experiences.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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