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Coronation Street Gets Classical

02/02/2014 21:11 GMT | Updated 02/04/2014 10:59 BST

This week, I attended the Association of British Orchestras annual conference. For those dedicated to sharing the power and worth of classical music with the wider world, it's always a great opportunity to meet like-minds, refuel, and plot new initiatives.

Contrary to the claptrap we often hear about classical music dying, every year delegates account fresh evidence of its growing reach and new converts. Among them this year was the music journalist Paul Morley who made a rousing speech, confessing that he's lately found more energy and imagination in orchestral music than rock.

If this was good news for classical music, there was more to come on Friday night, in the most unlikely place. On the cobbles of Weatherfield, to be precise.

A couple of weeks ago, 10 million viewers tuned in to ITV1 to watch the death of Coronation Street favourite Hayley Cropper. This Friday saw her funeral. It was largely as one would expect: the tears, the tensions, and regular rascal Steve McDonald comically failing to juggle Scotch eggs at the wake.

But amid all this, someone entirely unexpected turned up: the great Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Or rather, his exquisite Concerto for Two Violins which the late Hayley asked to be played as she was laid to rest.

In all my years loving this piece of music (and yes, loving Coronation Street), I never dreamed the two would collide. Although much of the concerto brims with exuberant confidence, it is such a humble, unassuming piece and its composer could surely never have imagined it standing the test of time when he first put pen to paper 300 years ago.

I find it enormously heartening that music this old can still have such resonance today.

The celebrant at Hayley's funeral reminded her bereft partner Roy how 'you once told her violins were the closest instrument to the human voice, and this was the perfect duet.' In the slow movement that Hayley chose, the violins interweave, echoing what each other says, fusing exquisitely into one continuous melody. Around them a glowing halo of sound emanates from the orchestra of strings and harpsichord.

It is neither happy nor sad, or perhaps it is both things at the same time. Either way, its power is utterly undiminished three centuries after it was written: what of today's music might we dare predict will endure so long?

It's a great sign of classical music's ongoing relevance that the writers of a show like Corrie (in this case, Ellen Taylor) would choose to use it. It's not the first time either.

In her convalescence, Hayley listened to The Lark Ascending written by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1920. Here a solo violin represents the titular bird, gliding, hovering and soaring above a pastoral haze of strings. In both pieces, Hayley saw herself: eternally devoted to Roy in the Bach, and lifted above her suffering by the Lark.

This is what classical music can do so powerfully: even though it may have been written long ago, it holds a mirror to the people we are today.

I hope the millions who watch Coronation Street will be tantalised by the short excerpts they heard of both pieces and hunt down the full works. Their efforts will certainly be rewarded.

After all, if it has something to say to a humble everyday factor worker from the backstreets of Manchester like Hayley Cropper, it almost certainly has something to say to us all.