Category Archives: audeince building

Engaging New Audiences While Maintaing High Artistic Standards

I returned to Indiana a little over a year ago, after living in Manhattan for five months, as part of a sabbatical, attending concerts and other events nearly every night (and sometimes days).  My purpose was to prepare for teaching a course on music entrepreneurship, and more broadly, audience development.  When I arrived in NY, I thought I was looking for answers: how to get people to concerts, how to promote yourself, etc.

By the time I left I’d discovered that when it comes to developing new audiences under 40 (which is important if we want there to be future audiences over 40), no one really knows, especially when it comes to traditional classical music.  Sure, there are things that work here and there, and lots of speculation.  And some of those things, like multi-genre programming, more use of lighting and other theatrical elements, etc., upset some classical musicians.

It came to me that instead of finding the answers, what I had found was something infinitely more valuable.  A question to shape my own work (including conversations with students, colleagues, and other music lovers):

How can we engage younger audiences without sacrificing artistic integrity?

A lot of classical-music traditionalists are concerned about new ways of programming and presenting music resulting in a lessening of standards.  How do we make it work for everyone?  How do we do music really, really welland do it in a way that engages new audiences?

Questions are more powerful than answers.  Continuing to ask the question, even when you’ve found an answer, opens enormous possibilities.

Lots of people are engaged with the question, framed in a variety of ways.  Greg Sandow has been for years, and is the person who first got me engaged in the conversation.  He’s been a quite  blogging role recently, with a new series of posts:

A friend recently pointed me to composer Chip Michael’s blog Interchanging Idioms, in which he explores, among other things, ways in which orchestras can develop an under-40 audience. Here’s a fascinating (if a bit meandering) conversation he posted on YouTube:

Finally, for today, multi-genre cellist Jon Silpayamanant, my friend and former student, suggests in his most recent blog post that for some failing large institutions, audience development may not be enough to rescue the enterprise.

Lots to think about as we imagine the future(s) for both classical music and classically-trained musicians.

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, future of classical music, Greg Sandow, Jon Silpayamanant

Adventures in Customer (Non) Service

Marketing, business, and entrepreneurship: they’ve always fascinated me.

My dad’s dad, Hugo, after having worked a bit as a lumberjack, eventually became a stock boy in a “dry goods” store, then a traveling salesman, and finally a department store buyer.  He loved to tell me stories about sales deals and marketing triumphs.

His favorite, I think, was when he bought so much of a certain fabric for the J. L. Hudson company that he told the marketing/advertising people that it would stretch all the way from the downtown Detroit Hudson building to the Detroit Zoo, which, two miles north of Detroit, was miles away.  They made a newspaper ad showing the fabric stretching from the iconic building to a giraffe holding the other end (I’m trying to find the image).

For years I’ve read a lot about these subjects, and now, as I’ve begun teaching entrepreneurship classes and am particularly interested in how classically-trained musicians can actually make money, my interest level has zoomed.

Dan Kennedy, who I first heard at a marathon, multi-speaker event years ago, writes often in his compnay’s newsletter about many topics, including customer service. He often points out how salespeople and servers can mess up a business–or make it.

On a weekend trip, I’ve been particularly aware of the service I have and haven’t experienced.  I’ll blow off a little steam–and there are some lessons musicians can draw from all this.

High-end (for this area) restaurant, inexperienced server: My $30 steak comes with potato or rice, but they won’t substitute a green vegetable (I can order one as a side dish).  I teasingly push the waitress a bit, so see if she can do something.  “That seems kind of cheap to me,” I say with a smile.  “Oh, well, you know that vegetables are more expensive than, like fries,” she explains in a somewhat patronizing tone.  It irritated me.  First, it seems like a counter-productive policy, because a baked potato loaded with butter and sour cream can’t be that much more expensive than some spinach or broccoli, and why in a place where with appetizer, drinks, etc., easily run $100/person would you not want to make people happy? Well, whatever.  It did get me wondering how I’d train servers to handle someone cranky about the policy better than this one did.

Huge music electronics complex: Outside the city I’m visiting is the extraordinary campus of one of the biggest sellers of electronics for musicians. Retail store, warehouse, teaching spaces, café, atrium, auditorium, arcade, even mini-mini golf.  I never saw anything like it.  There’s even a gym, which I assume is for employees.

I want to buy a portable digital recorder (to replace one that died), and a new pickup mic for my cello(s) (again, to replace one that died).  This firm, which has a strong online presence, has higher prices than online discounters. What they promote is knowledgeable salespeople who will give you advice and steer you in the right direction.  So I decided to go there and pay more than I would online just to have good service.

A receptionist directs my boyfriend and I to the retail store.  A salesperson, posted at a desk with an iMac, greets us and I explain what I am in the market for.

“Do you know what model you want to buy?”  No.  That’s why I came here, to get some help.  She asks me what I’ll use it for.  I explain I’m a classical and improvising cellist, and want something to record workshops I give, using the recorder’s own mics, and that I can connect microphones to.  She shows me a Tascam, one of two units on top of a display rack.

I ask her if it has phantom power (which powers the microphones).

“No it doesn’t,” she tells me.

I look at the box.  It says there is phantom power, and I point that out.

“Oh.”  She frowns.

“Well, what I meant was that someone else bought one and plugged in mics with quarter-inch plugs and phantom power doesn’t work for that.  You have to use XLR connections.”  OK, now, inadvertently, she’s told me not only that she’s confused but also that I must look like someone who, although I asked about phantom power, doesn’t know how it works.

“How’s the recording quality of the microphones?” I ask, moving on.

“I think it’s supposed to be pretty good.” Yep, that’s going to sell me.

There’s one other model, a Zoom, on display, at a big sales price.  It doesn’t do everything I want, but I love deals, and it does some sort of surround sound recording, which would be great in workshops.  So I look at that box, and she goes to check on pickup mics.  I can already tell she doesn’t know anything about them.

She comes back to tell me they don’t have any cello pickups, which I find hard to believe.  Maybe she’s searched the wrong way: what she’s done is to look on the website, on a big iMac out in the lobby.  Hoping that somehow she might understand me (I guess I just wanted to tell somebody), I tell her I have a Fishman pickup which I’ve found doesn’t work so well with Belgian bridges, and that I had a Realist pickup which was great (until it died, or more accurately was killed by a student), but I want to use it with multiple cellos and of course the Realist goes under a foot of the bridge.

She gives me a blank look, and searches their website for violin mics.

She shows me a photo of a plastic gadget that attaches to the side of a violin to hold a mic. “Would that help you?”  No, I don’t think so.

I ask about other models of digital recorders. She looks on the web, and tells me they have some other ones available online that aren’t in the retail store.  She leaves me at the computer, on which there are multiple open windows, including someone’s email, to look at the online reviews.

I learn a few things (from the reviews, not the email, which I did not browse!).

Then, since I’m shopping online anyway, I pull out my iPhone and compare prices with the Amazon app.  (I couldn’t bring myself to use their computer to look at Amazon.)  Everything is much less expensive.  Here my experience has been one of pleasant non-guidance. Why should I pay $40 extra for the privilege of telling the sales person that the one unit does have phantom power?

“I’m going to think about it,” I tell her, and we leave.

The hotel: Well, actually a motel.  Once we are back from not buying a recorder or microphone, I spend 30 minutes running on the treadmill and end up very sweaty.  Since we’d gotten up late, I figure our towels will still be damp, so I go to the front desk.  The clerk gets off the phone and I ask for two bath towels.  She asks for my room number and puts it on a Post-it note.  “If you come back in 15 minutes, they’ll be here on the desk for you,” she tells me with a smile.  Unlike earlier, I’m not annoyed, just amused.  “But I want to take a shower now,” I say, smiling back. “Oh. I’ll be right back.  She grabs a key, and in 45 seconds is back with the towels.

This morning:

10:00 AM: knock at the door.  “Housekeeping!”  “We’re still here, I yell from the bed.”

10:45 AM: knock at the door. “Housekeeping!” “We’re here,” I call.  “Do you need service today?” “No, we’re checking out.”

11:12 AM: knock at the door. Actually, really aggressive knocking.  “Housekeeping!” This time I go to the door.  “We haven’t check out yet,” I explain.  “Well, checkout time was 11:00 AM!” How do I describe the tone? It’s when someone is angry, trying to seem nice.  Contempt and accusation masked with a smile.  “Well, we’re still here,” I point out.

I call the front desk and ask for a  12:00, hey, better make that 12:30, checkout.  “Sure, no problem.”  And she’ll try to tell housekeeping.

12:15 PM  We are out.  And hungry.  There’s a Bob Evans, and it’s jammed.  Across the street, we find Willy’s Cozy Nook. Seated right away.  A great waitress who keeps the coffee and water filled, laughs at my jokes, massages my shoulders, and is amazed at the video of the sword swallower at last night’s downtown Busker Fest.  Great omelet.  They happily fill my big plastic cup with ice water.  I tell the waitress I’ve had this run of customer-service experiences and how much i appreciated her skill.  She gives me a knowing and understanding look.  All these undertrained kids who mean well–we get each other.

“Honey, I’ve been at this for 45 years.  I know a thing a two about it.” She gives me a sincere smile. Tells me her name and that I can ask for her next time.  “It’s always nice to be thanked,” she says, and reaches out her hand.

I take it.

And I know the one place I will definitely be back to.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations.  I’m filing this under “audience building” (and just noticed that “audience is misspelled in my category list) because for every individual artist and for every arts organization, it’s all about the relationship you have with your audience, with your fans, your friends, your followers.  It’s about the experience they have when they interact with you.

So I’m asking myself:

When am I the waitress who explains vegetables are more expensive than fries to a customer ready to spend a a lot of money?

When am I the salesperson who gives wrong information about a product and puts the customer on a computer to look things up?

When am I the desk clerk who doesn’t infer that the sweat-soaked resident asking for bath towels probably needs them right then?

And when am I the experienced, friendly waitress doing a great job, truly taking care of people, and in an engaging yet unobtrusive way?

 

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Filed under and everything, audeince building, Uncategorized

Sunday Night: Lie Down with Bach

Katya Kramer-Lapin, a wonderful pianist finishing her doctorate at the IU Jacobs School of Music and one of my DePauw colleagues, is playing the Bach Goldberg Variations tonight (Sunday Nov. 13) in the beautiful Methodist church nestled in the heart of the DePauw University campus.

We’re dimming the lights, lighting some candles, and, most importantly, making as much floor space available in the sanctuary as possible.

Floor space?

Yes, so the audience, most of whom we expect to be college students, can bring comforters, blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows, and listen to the music lying down. Pajamas are welcome, even encouraged, if not required.

You know what?  There’s some buzz about it.

A bunch of young people who would not voluntarily sit for 90 minutes in a church pew or an auditorium seat are excited about being able to experience Bach while lying down. There’s a legend to this piece: that it was commissioned by a wealthy insomniac patron, for the latter’s keyboard-prodigy servant (Goldberg) to play while his master tossed and turned trying to sleep. So it seems apropos to offer a similar opportunity to a larger group.

And, of course, listening to music while lying down is wonderful.  People do it at home all the time; in a public space, very rarely.  But how extraordinary it should be to stetch out, relax, and experience a world-class pianist making music.  I’m really looking forward to it.

We’re framing the event as a study break and a time of meditation.  We want to balance the informality and novelty with the idea of a peaceful, quiet space, and not have it devolve into a silly pajama party.  It’s all come about through conversations between Katya, me, and members of the first-year seminar class for music majors I teach at DePauw, in which one of the topics is the question of how to get college students to enjoy classical music.

I’ve just read through Greg Sandow’s recent series of posts (hereherehere, and here), and the 93 comments to date (many voluminous and all surprisingly civil in tone), on outreach, education and what I think is Greg’s brilliant insight, one that’s changed my life, which I’ll paraphrase: hey, before anything else, let’s get our peers to listen to our music. My head is still spinning from the discussion, which roams through white colonialism, the brilliance of hip hop, the lack of African Americans in classical music (with notable exceptions).  Images of a graduate course on “Rhythm” at SUNY Stony Brook, where I couldn’t understand most of what people were saying, or why they were saying it, came to mind.  (I sat in on the first session and did not register for it.  I do remember, though, that most of what I couldn’t understand, which flowed forth spontaneously from eager-to-impress theory, musicology, and composition students, was quickly dismissed as the bullshit it was by the professor, although he didn’t use that word.  It was just more bullshit than I thought I could handle.)

Which is not to put Greg or any of the commenters down. Greg started off by saying that while outreach and education are great, we, especially young musicians, need to be getting “people like us” to come to concerts. The conversation, though, does seem to want to avoid the question (perhaps not surprisingly, since it’s so hard to answer) of how we engage new audiences–especially people under 40–without sacrificing artistic quality.  That’s not exactly how Greg phrases it.  For me, though, that’s the question.  My sabbatical in New York, the hundred or more different performances I went to, Greg’s Juilliard course that I sat in on, and everything else?  What I got from it was a question. This question. For me, the question.

Questions are more important than answers.

And so I’ve been asking it of lots of people, including those who play and sing in concerts I organize. Katya’s one of them.  So are my students.  We imagined this together.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

 

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Greg Sandow, Katya Kramer-Lapin

Toronto Symphony: 35% of Its Audience Under 35

As I’ve said before, “the question” for classical music (and its genre-melding young offspring) is how do we bring in a younger audience without compromising artistic standards? By younger, I mean under 40.  Whether or not you believe there’s a classical-music attendance crisis, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have some people with full heads of non-gray hair joining the rest of us.

Indefatigable super-publicist Gail Wein sent me news of this story about the Toronto Symphony‘s success. Through the success of the orchestra’s tsoundcheck program for young adults, 35% of the TSO audience is now under 35.

35% under 35! Fantastic news.  And how have they done it?

  • concert schedules that work for young professional audiences
  • low-priced tickets for not just students but also those aged 18-35 (23,000 this past season,good seats that can be selected in advance)
  • lobby parties after shortened Saturday-night concerts

The entire article is well worth reading–it sure brightened my day.  Doesn’t the following sound good?

[G]oing to the symphony has become a normal thing to do for under 35s in Toronto, and has even become a popular date-night activity. Trina Senechal Klinck, 32, began attending the TSO when she started dating her husband, Ben, in 2006.

“It’s the same prices as the movies and it’s more of an outing and it’s cultural. I’m always up for trying new things and the symphony offers things that are compelling to go to — you don’t feel like it’s from the bottom of the barrel. We’ve introduced a lot of our friends to [the TSO].”

I know not everyone (especially among some of my orchestral musician friends)  is happy with the idea of post-concert lobby parties.  But low-priced ticket programs and a fun atmosphere can obviously help to build a younger audience, and it doesn’t mean you have to dumb down the music.

Doesn’t the younger set want laser light shows and film scores? As it turns out, they don’t.

“If you listen to current bands like Radiohead, Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom,” said longtime tsoundchecker Dustin Cohen, 26, “you will see that … young people today continue to crave big-picture themes like love, loss, death and revolution. There’s a unique quality to live classical music. When I’m in the concert hall, watching the orchestra, I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to download this second movement when I get home!’”

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Gail Wein, Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Promoting a concert with YouTube videos

I mentioned in my last post that I asked John Kamfonas to make some videos in which he discusses the music he’s performing at Wednesday night’s Greencastle Summer Music Festival concert.  (Hey, if you’re within driving distance of Greencastle, Indiana, the concert’s at 7:30 PM, at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, and it’s free. Directions here.)

Inspired by a project in Greg Sandow‘s Juilliard class (which Greg was kind enough to let me sit in on) this spring, I asked John to talk to the camera about what he loves (or is afraid of, or something else personal) in the pieces he’s playing.  He did a great job of talking about and demonstrating the pieces, as well as editing the video.  We both thought the videos about the music itself–as effective as they are–turned out less personal than we had intended, so he made the first video below as a personal introduction.

The idea we’re trying out is to promote and present concerts in a way that presents an alternative to the classical-music-is-formal-and-boring-and-classical-musicians-are-stiff-and-dull impression many people have.  I can’t say how much I appreciate John going for it.  So here are his videos, starting with his introduction.  Comments welcome!

Thanks and congratulations again to John.  The daunting thing is that I’m playing in two weeks, so now I have to practice what I preach!

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, John Kamfonas (piano), YouTube

Adventures in Concert Presentation: John Kamfonas at the Greencastle Summer Music Festival Wednesday

John Kamfonas

John Kamfonas is a young pianist (early twenties–to me, that’s young; he’s about my son’s age).  He’s playing tomorrow (Wednesday) night on the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, a series of 12 Wednesday-evening concerts I organize (or as the say in NY, “curate”).

To me, John’s a great example of a next-generation musician.  He’s a terrific classical pianist, who just received his Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music (MSM).  (Which is where I met him, when I sat in on some guest presentations at the MSM Center for Music Entrepreneurship). He also improvises and plays in a rock band.

We ended up sitting next to each other when a large group went out for burgers and beer after a presentation by David Cutler, the Savvy Musician himself. When John told me about his improvising and rock lives, I thought he might be great to invite to play in Greencastle. I love his musical diversity, and his youth and rock-music interest might appeal to a younger-than-usual audience. To me, the question for classical-music presenters and performers is how to we attract younger audiences and maintain artistic integrity?  One part of the answer is presenting young performers (with whom young audiences can identify) who play classical and original and/or non-classical music.

So while I was in NY, John, at my invitation, dropped a CD off at my building (ah, how nice it was to have a doorman!) and sent me an email proposing a program with improvisations, classical music (Brahms, Liszt, and Hadjidakis, the latter arrangements of Greek folk tunes) and some rock music–improvisations on Michael Jackson tunes.  Sounded great, and since he’s young and didn’t need a big fee (yet), we could afford to fly him in.

We’re having a “Meet John Kamfonas” pizza party tonight for college and high-school students in town.  That’s proved to be a bit challenging.  There are relatively few DePauw students on campus for the summer, since we don’t have summer classes. I don’t have the contact information for that many of them, and have had to recruit my kids and their friends to pass on Facebook invitations.  I also had to ask friends to host the party at their house, since I don’t have a piano.  They are big supporters of the festival, so they were happy to do it, but I hate asking for help with stuff (something I’m working on).  Since I just got back to Greencastle a week ago, and was shy about asking someone else to host a party, word may have gotten out too late for a big turnout.  We’ll see.

I also asked John to make a YouTube video or two we could use to introduce him–he made four!  I don’t know how much of a difference they’ll make in a small town, but I do know that a number of people appreciate videos on concert venue websites as they decide whether a concert is interesting to them.  This is something Greg Sandow talked a lot about in his Juilliard class: both using videos and having performers talk about themselves and what their personal connection to the music.  They’ll be in my next post.

Meanwhile, in addition to Facebook invites and email invitations, there’s been an article in the local paper and it got picked up by the DePauw site.  My guess is the the DePauw PR director decided to do a story on it because presenting a program combining classical music, improvisations, and Michael Jackson relates to my sabbatical research.

I’ll let you know how the party and concert go!

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Center for Music Entrepreneurship, Festivals/Series, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, John Kamfonas (piano), Manhattan School of Music, Sandow, Uncategorized, Young Performers

Cutting Edge Concerts: Better Get There Early Tonight

Monday April 4 took me all the way across the street to Symphony Space, where I encountered a long,snaking line at the box office, for the second program of the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival 2011.  There’s another concert tonight at 7:30, and I’ll get there early, both to pick up my ticket and get a good seat.  Music by Mumford, Ferneyhough, Meltzer, and the festival’s artistic director Victoria Bond, performed by the Argento Ensemble and the Da Capo Chamber Players.

It’s another event publicized by Gail Wein (which I’m making a point of because one of the reasons I’m in to NY is to see how to get people to concerts, and very good way seems to be to hire Gail), and, like the previous day’s Baby Got Bach show, last week’s performance was sold out.  Selling out a new-music concert, even in New York, is not easy, so congratulations to everyone involved.  (The first concert in the series, on March 28, got a great review in the NY Times.)

Last Monday’s concert, performed by Sequitur, included music by Robert Sirota, Armando Bayolo, Daniel Godfrey, David Glaser, and Victoria Bond.  It was long–first half was over 90 minutes.  Producing new-music concerts takes an incredible determination, sense of mission, organizational skills, people skills, fundraising, etc., all of which Victoria Bond seems to have in abundance  So I guess it’s natural to jam as much music in as possible.  For most of the audience, which I assume was primarily New-York new-music lovers, and the composers (and their friends and family members) that’s probably a good thing.  There aren’t many opportunities to get things performed. (And Symphony Space has a long history of marathon events.)

Now if you were looking for a new audience for this music, maybe shorter concerts would be the thing.  I’m just wondering out loud here. I confess I stayed for just the first half;  it was well after 9:00 PM by the time intermission came, and I really wanted to watch, of all things, a basketball game.  I’ve lived in Indiana for almost a quarter century;  the amazing (Indianapolis) Butler men’s team was playing UConn (my son’s favorite team) in the NCAA FInal Four championship game, and, well, even though I’m not much of a basketball fan, I couldn’t resist.

Before the basketball, the concert’s first half was great.  My favorite was Robert Sirota’s A Sinner’s Diary for two violas, flute, cello, piano, and percussion.  Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre has a smallish stage, so the percussion was set up in front of it.  You’d think that would make for ensemble challenges, but it didn’t.  Bond interviews the composers on stage before each piece–which works very well.  Sirota explained, among other things, that he wrote the piece for his daughter Nadia‘s graduation recital at Juilliard.  She now seems to own the new-music viola market in New York–seems like she’s played every concert I’ve been to (and if not, I see her in the audience).  Her brother Jonah is the violist in the Chiara Quartet, hence the two violas in the instrumentation.  The music was varied, lively, emotionally intense and evocative, and, natch, had a huge viola solo movement.

Armando Bayolo’s Mix Tape for solo double bass gave the very skilled Pawel Knapik quite a workout.  Movements were based on well-disguised fragments of pop songs.

Daniel Godfrey’s Anika used letters from Anika, a young Polish Jew, writing to a cousin with increasing horror as the Holocaust impinges on her life, contrasted with a horrifying speech by a top Nazi official (I think it was Himmler or Goebbels; the program notes don’t say and I forgot to write it down).  This was an unsettling, powerful piece to experience-maybe that’s one reason I felt I’d had enough music for the evening and went home to watch basketball.  Sometimes there’s only so much one can absorb.  The contrast of the texts, and the terrifying Nazi sense of mission, has stayed with me.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s concert.  And I’ll be sure to take a little “disco nap” before heading over to make sure I have plenty of endurance!

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Filed under audeince building, Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival, Gail Wein, Publicity and Publicists, Symphony Space

The Masada Marathon at City Opera (Better-Late-Than-Never Comments)

My son, 22 and a senior in college, was visiting me last week.  He reads my blog, bless him, likes classical music even if he’s not a big fan, and has been very interested in my adventures exploring alternative presentation of classical music, new music that blends classical elements with, for example, indie-rock elements, etc.  So he was quite excited to come with me to hear the Jack Quartet at [le] poisson rouge and Bobby Previte, So Percussion, et al on the closing Ecstatic Music Festival concert.

But these were both pretty hard-listening, new-music concerts.  Neither had the steady beat, accessible-harmony, singer/songwriter-who’s-worked-out-with-a-classical-composition-teacher-trainer flavor I’ve been telling him about. So when it came to the Wednesday March 30 John Zorn Masada Marathon concert, scheduled to last about 3.5 hours, presented by the New York City Opera, we watched the video below so he could decide.

That’s the kind of experimental, raucous music that he’d gotten enough of the previous night.  So after we’d made dinner, he stayed in my apartment with his sister (19, a sophomore in college here in NY).  They watched stuff on Netflix, fell asleep, probably vented about their parents to each other . . . you know, had a great brother/sister bonding time.

I, on the other hand, really wanted to experience this event, even though the dad in me wanted to hang out with my kids.  It was exactly the sort of unusual event (in this case, progressive, experimental, and non-classical musicians who rarely if ever perform in traditional “uptown” concert halls presented by a major opera company at Lincoln Center) I’ve come to New York for a semester to participate in.

(I chose that word purposefully. Even when we “only” listen, we are participating.  Imagine a marathon concert in an an opera house with no audience or ushers or stage hands.  Everyone participates in the musicking in one form or another.)

And when I saw that Erik Friedlander, one of my favorite improvising cellists, was performing, there was no way I could miss it.  (He was fabulous in ensembles and his solo set, which included the most amazing pizzicato playing I’ve ever seen/heard.) Twelve sets, with a huge number of performers (see this link for details; Erik and Uri Caine did solo sets), playing music from the 316 tunes composed in 2004 that make up Zorn’s The Book of Angels. Zorn, of course, has a huge following, and so do many of the performers.  So who knows how many others turned up for a particular segment, as I did.  The audience went nuts for everyone.  If there was a favorite, it was the second-half-opening Secret Chiefs 3, a rock band.

My son would have enjoyed this concert, since in the diversity of it all there was a lot of straight-ahead jazz and rock.  This was the eclectic concert with music he would have liked, an innovative-yet-accessible presentation in a traditional venue.  Oh, well!  The whole thing, which ended up lasting four hours or so, was quite an experience.  Some of it crazy, chaotic and experimental.  Jazz, rock, contemporary classical–an incredible array of styles.

The Book of Angels is the second book of Zorn’s Masada music, tunes/charts (rather than fully notated compositions if I understand correctly) that were born in his desire “to create something positive in the Jewish tradition something that maybe takes the idea of Jewish music into the 21st century the way jazz developed from the teens and 1920s into the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s and on…” (source, via Wikipedia.) There was a lot of arrangement by performers as well as improvisation; Zorn, in colorful cargo pants, played sax and led/conducted some of the groups, sitting in a chair making hand gestures.

I’m here in NY witnessing and thinking about innovation and creativity in programming, performance, presentation, and marketing.  The New York City Opera scores big on innovation and creativity, presenting this extravaganza of downtown music.  How exciting to see it, and some of the rather strangely-dressed patrons, who looked more East Village than Upper West Side, in this elegant setting. City Opera is also running Monodramas, three one-act, one-soprano operas, which include Zorn’s La Machine de l’être as well as works by Schoenberg and Feldman. Soon they’ll be presenting the premiere of Stephen Schwartz‘s  Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Schwartz is the wildly popular composer of Broadway hits from Godspell to Wicked), which I assume will be quite different.

The question is how big is the turnout for this non-traditional stuff, and how much does that matter, short or long-term?  While there were some empty seats at the Masada Marathon, the place seemed pretty full.  I’ve heard the opening of Monodramas was nearly sold out, but this hasn’t been the case for subsequent performances, despite excellent reviews from the Times, the Post, and the New Yorker.  Does everything have to do huge business to be worthwhile?  Certainly not.  The mission of an arts organization isn’t to sell as many tickets as possible for every event.  And both the Masada Marathon and Monodramas must be collectively drawing in new-music types who wouldn’t usually go to a Lincoln Center performance and may now decide to try out, say, some Donitzetti.

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Filed under audeince building, Composers, Erik Friedlander, John Zorn, New York City Opera, Uncategorized

The Ushers vs. YouTube Culture

Last night, I kept casting my gaze down and around from my second-tier seat in Avery Fisher Hall at the rest of the audience.  Looked just like the crowd at a funeral, except not as well dressed.  Mostly gray and balding heads.  It was if they’d come to say goodbye to an old friend.  Just a sprinkling of younger people.

If we want to get younger audiences into mainstream classical institutions, we need to look at, among other things, the disconnect between the rules and traditions of traditional concert halls and the realities of today’s 40-and-under culture.  When it comes to non-flash photography using small cameras and smart phones, it’s the ushers (and the proprietary mindset of their employers and the classical establishment) vs. our new YouTube culture.  The new culture, where we want to take video and photos and share them with each other, is winning, of course, but the ushers aren’t going down without a fight.

Tuesday (at Alice Tully Hall), Wednesday (at the New York State Theatre) and last night (Thursday, at Avery Fisher Hall), ushers charged with enforcing no-photography rules caused more of a disturbance than whatever the behavior was that they were trying to stop.

Eric to the world: this doesn’t help create attractive experiences for new participants.

There I was on Tuesday, enjoying the really extraordinary Juilliard Percussion Ensemble’s Alice Tully Hall performance, when, during the music, an usher walked right in front us on our side of Row S, so we had to pull in our feet to make room for him.  At first I wondered who this asshole guy was, and why an usher hadn’t stopped him.  Then I saw he was in a tux and obviously part of the staff. An usher supervisor, maybe. Made his way to the empty seats in the middle of the row and made fussing gestures at someone  a row or two back.  Who was the malfeaser?  What crime against the Alice Tully was being committed?  Could it have been, horrors, a parent taking video of his or her child performing on stage?

Then Wednesday, in the midst of the informal rock-concert atmosphere at New York City Opera’s presentation of John Zorn’s Masada Marathon (a more delightfully incongruent contrast between performers and the formality of the space I’ve never seen), lights started flashing in my eyes. Ouch! I was in the first row of the first tier, in an aisle seat.  I looked to my left, and there was an usher, next aisle over, waving a (very bright) flashlight at a woman, I finally saw, in the middle of the front row of the section to my left.  Who was doing something with, I think, an iPhone.  (At first, paranoid guy that I am, I’d been afraid I was doing something wrong–legs crossed, the tip of one foot was slightly touching the top of the wall there to keep us from falling into the orchestra seats.) The waving light came again.  And again.  The message was clear.  Stop that!  (You bad person!) It just felt hostile.  Especially given the joyful, often chaotic explosion on the stage.

Finally the flashlight was turned off.

Ah, back to the music.

My relief came too soon.  Almost immediately the flashlight-armed usher was right next to me, joined by another.  They were pointing and whispering to each other, loud enough for me to hear speculation about seat numbers.  Finally they gave up–I thought it might escalate to a security guard being called–and went back to their watchtower-like posts.

Through through most of this I could look to my right and see an official photographer taking photos.  Talk about irony!

Last night (Thursday), at least at intermission and not during the performance, an usher scolded a New York Philharmonic patron who was, I think, taking a photo of the largely unoccupied stage. The camera or phone was put away, the usher left, the device soon came back out and the photo was taken.  The ushers have been given a losing battle to fight.

My seatmate told me about hearing a concert at the Cleveland Orchestra’s home base, Severance Hall, which she thought was the most beautiful music venue she’d been to.  But an usher stopped her from taking a photo. There are issues, I know.  But if I was running the Cleveland Orchestra, which is not exactly drowning in excess funding, I wouldn’t want my friend complaining about not being able to take a photo of the orchestra’s hall.  I’d want her showing it to me and everyone else, maybe organizing a weekend trip to Cleveland.

God forbid you even think about eating or drinking at your seat.  During intermission at a Zankel Hall concert, a patron started to walk in from the lobby with a drink in his hand.  “SIR!  SIR!” yelled an usher from across the way. He looked at her and she pointed at the drink while shaking her head somewhat, what, dismissively? Angrily?  Maybe “annoyedly assertive disdain” is the best way to put it.

OK, I know there are umpteem copyright issues.  No recording!  No video!  No photography!  And people texting and holding up cameras and smartphones can be distracting.  But this is what younger people do, what they want, how they share with each other.

Big classical-music institutions aren’t helping themselves, or the cause, by continuing this fear-inducing, semi-hostile environment.  We want to get new audiences in. They need to feel, and be, welcomed. We’ve got to find a way to embrace the new technology and user-driven social media, and let people do want people want to do.

(Now on Twitter @ericedberg)

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Filed under Alice Tully Hall, alienating audiences, audeince building, Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Hall, concert ettiquete, future of classical music, Lincoln Center, New York State Theatre, Performance Venues, Traditional Venues, Zankel Hall

Getting the 18-40 Crowd to Attend

How to Get the 18-40 Crowd to Put Down the Controller and Go to Your Theatre: a great post by Melissa Hillman, Artistic Director of the Impact Theatre in Berkeley.  (Thanks to Mike Nelson, @kickassclassical on Twitter). Here are the main points.  Read her elaborations.  Brilliant.

1. Do the kinds of plays young people want to see.

2. Be realistic about your pricing.

3. Market to young people.

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