William Yeoman is Literary Editor and arts writer at The West Australian newspaper.  His widely respected views on music can be read in Limelight and Gramophone magazines. Behind his dignified persona is a yoga-loving guitarist whose love of the arts is such that he will walk out of a rubbish performance. Will shares with us his thoughts on the much-maligned and desperately unappreciated role of the music critic.

What music gets your heart racing?

Vivaldi violin concertos performed at breakneck speed and with plenty of improvised ornamentation!

What calms you down?

Much of Ravel, Debussy and Chopin’s solo piano music, every time…

What do you sing along to?

Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Finzi’s Houseman and Hardy settings, Bach’s Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah (of course!)

You are currently books editor at The West Australian plus contributing to Weekend West and writing features and reviews covering the classical music scene. You seem to fit three jobs into one – a mammoth undertaking! Why is it so important to you that the WA arts scene is covered in the newspaper?

There is something of Schiller and Schopenhauer in this, but I believe the arts are fundamental to civilization because they allow us the freedom to explore, experiment and grow our creativity in a way that benefits every other aspect of society. As I have written elsewhere, “no endeavour, whether scientific, political, social, economic, military or recreational, can be realised in a way that benefits every member of the community unless it arises from, and is inspired by, that creativity and freedom which only the arts can engender. The arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity.” Therefore the more we can do to support and promote the local arts scene through the newspaper, the better it is for everyone. And readers seem to be responding positively.

William Yeoman on Seven West Media’s Travel Club

What does a day in the life of Will look like?

3am Meditation and creative writing
5am Breakfast and reading
7am-between 3 & 5pm: Work (writing, editing, administration, interviews, meetings) Lunch somewhere in there too!
After work: Yoga, dinner
Evening: guitar or piano practice, freelance writing OR concert if reviewing for the paper.
Before bed: reading, listening to music

Watch William in action conducting a hilarious interview with Helmut Wunderlicher here.

How do you select content and discern what readers are interested in?

I look for a) the most significant events from an audience perspective ie WASO, WA Opera; and b) the most unusual events which are nevertheless likely to expand someone’s understanding of the arts and should therefore be pointed out ie a concert of contemporary classical music or an avant garde opera. It is also important to take risks, not just with style but content. Your readers will let you know when you’ve got it wrong!

Why is it important to be reviewing concerts and productions? Is it to register the event on the public record or is it more than that?

A review is often the only record of an event, so it is important for that reason. But reviewers should also be able to contextualize a particular event for those who were there as much as for those who were not, retrospectively, and evaluate it in light of similar kinds of performances and similar kinds of music. I also believe reviewing is a form of literature which should educate, entertain and form an integral part of the larger cultural conversation.

Fewer and fewer media institutions around the world are covering arts and providing specialist reviews. Is music journalism a dying artform?

There has arguably been a decline not just in content but in respect for serious music journalism. But I think that as long as the quality of the writing, the quality of the knowledge and the quality of the ideas are strong and original, music journalism is here to stay.

Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

See above – the role of music should be to challenge rather than console. But music has to be interesting first, because otherwise nobody will bother listening to it. Then it has to be original, challenging, well-crafted and philosophically and theoretically well-grounded. And hopefully still fun!

You have a soft spot for guitar. When did you first begin learning?

I started learning guitar at the age of 10 from a crazy Yugoslavian guy in Northam. I studied all styles and only started focusing on classical and jazz in my early 20s.

I remember when you were working at a Nedlands music store and moonlighting as a music critic after hours. Where did you learn the skills to be an arts journalist and make the transition to The West?

I suppose I had a modest talent for writing, and always read and wrote a lot from a young age. Studying Latin at university level certainly helped improve my grammar and develop a sense of style. But my time working in the Classical Music retail industry, both here in Perth and in London, proved invaluable for my arts journalism: apart from the endless hours of comparative listening possible in such an environment, nobody should ever underestimate the musicological knowledge and essayistic skills one can glean from the finest writers of CD liner notes. I’m thinking of Graham Johnson, for example. I was lucky enough to start freelance reviewing for The West about 12 years ago. I guess they liked my work enough to offer me a fulltime job as a staff writer when one came up! After that, it was onwards and upwards, as they say. I have always loved all the arts, especially music and the visual arts, and there is never any shortage of great arts stories out there.

Inside goss on the The West – the paper is losing pages and readers by the month. Will our local daily survive the rise of digital media?

This may have been true in the past, but more recently we’ve had more and more space devoted to the arts, which in turn has been bringing former readers back to The West while attracting new ones. I know this from the amount of feedback I’ve been getting, telling me precisely this! There has also been a noticeable levelling-off in the print vs digital arena, and it is no longer seen as a marriage of convenience – more a match made in heaven!

What is your favourite place in Perth?

New Edition Bookshop in Fremantle.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the arts?

I enjoy yoga and meditation too – though I suppose they are art forms in themselves as well!

Thank you William Yeoman for appearing on Celebrity Soft Spot. Follow William on Twitter @Sesquialtera  and in the arts pages of The West Australian newspaper.