Category Archives: Greg Sandow

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

Thanks, Greg!

If you read this blog, you know I am a fan of Greg Sandow and his blog.  (And like all fans I don’t agree with him all the time!)  On sabbatical last year, I had the good fortune to sit in on an entrie semester of Greg’s “Classical Music in an Age of Pop” course at Juilliard.  He got his students to shift–for at least a while–into a mode of sharing what their music making really means to them, and to imagine how they can use that to connect with potential audience members.

When Greg recently started offering online branding workshops for professionals, I was one of the first to apply.  Today we finished our three-session course, and I have a new sense of clarity of who I am, what I do, why I do it, and that it really is worth doing and telling people about.  Greg is imaginative, knowledgeable, encouraging, challenging, and most of all see what’s special and wonderful in other people.

My wesbite–and career planning–are about to take a quantum leap forward.  Exchanging ideas with other participants and was engaging, enlivening, and thrilling.

So if you’ve read about Greg’s online branding seminars, look into them. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I doubt he’ll be this accessible and such a low price for very long. I know he pisses some of you off some of the time–that’s part of his mission in life.  His work with individuals on getting clear on who they are and imagining how they can present that clearly to the world is totally independent of whether some orchestras need a new model or not, or if there is a classical music crisis or not.

I’ll be first in line for whatever he sets up next.

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Filed under branding, entrepreneurship, Greg Sandow, marketing

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

Name That Theme: Figuring Out Tully Scope

Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times keeps, well, complaining that he can’t figure out the “theme” of the recent Tully Scope festival here in New York. “But the theme of the festival was hard to discern,” he writes, referring back to the opening event in his enthusiastic review of the final concert (which I blogged about here).  “And at its conclusion the theme of Tully Scope still seemed amorphous,” he continues later.  In his review of the opening event he says,

I cannot figure out what the point of this festival is supposed to be. In a program note Jane Moss, the vice president for programming at Lincoln Center, writes that TullyScope is “an international bazaar,” a “discovery of all that is wonderful about New York’s musical life.” It is also, she adds, “about a very special new musical home at Lincoln Center.” Fair enough, but terribly vague.

Sigh.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Somehow I doubt Mr. Tommasini uses the shuffle feature on his iPod (if he has one) to experience a randomly-ordered, surprising-filled juxtaposition of music. If he did, this may have made more sense to him.

There wasn’t a central, organizing musical focus, like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Manifest Legacy: Beethoven and Brahms series, which ran concurrently with Tully Scope in the same hall.  You might say that it was a festival “about nothing,” as the now-ancient sitcom Seinfeld (set in New York) was often described.  Which means, that like Seinfeld, it was a festival about everything.  A kind of musical buffet in which one could sample all sorts of new things.  The lack of a central musical point was the point.  It was a celebration of musical diversity. New music, old music.  Superstars like Emmanuel Ax and Jordi Savall.  New York-based up-and-comers like Tyondai Braxton and Brooklyn Rider.

Closing his review of the final concert, he does hit on what I think some of we older music-types may miss the significance of:

After the concert, as with all the Tully Scope events, the audience gathered in the lobby and mingled, given glasses of sparkling wine. You were surrounded by animated conversations about the music. Lincoln Center should find a way to keep this welcome innovation of Tully Scope going.

Absolutely.  As Greg Sandow points out in his post on the final concert,

People normally go out at night to have an experience. They want to do something that’ll be fun, or meaningful, something they think they’ll enjoy, that will mean something to them.

Yes, yes, yes.  This added so much to the experience.  I ended up meeting and chatting with someone after every concert I attended, which would not have happened without the space or without the free drink.  In a comment on Greg’s post, Linda writes,

This is what “The Experience Economy” is all about. People (especially in the sought after 25-40 age group) want to buy into a complete experience, preferably one in which they can interact with other people, rather than be passive “receivers.”

The other aspect of the “complete experience,” which the reviews I’ve seen have overlooked, is Tully Scope’s fascinating use of staging and lighting design.  I keep commenting on it in my blog posts because I’m realizing it’s so important and so many of us interested in the future of classical music aren’t thinking (enough) about it.  What I’ve really gotten during my time here in New York is that concerts are much more visual than people my age (50+) tend to realize, or would like to be the case.  For younger audiences, the visual is an important component of the complete experience.

People who just want to hear good music can stay home and listen to the inexhaustible supply of nearly a century’s worth of extraordinary recordings.  Complete, interactive experiences that are humanizing and foster human connection need to engage more than just the ears. If, of course, you want more than a handful of people to attend.

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Filed under Alice Tully Hall, future of classical music, Greg Sandow, Lincoln Center, Tully Scope 2011

Tully Scope: As Good to Watch as It Was to Listen To

(Been traveling, mostly without Internet access.  How did NY concert life get along without me in attendance?)

Last thing I attended in NY was the final Tully Scope concert, featuring music of Heiner Goebbels.  Fascinating, eclectic music performed by not one but two orchestras, the London Sinfonetta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the latter on (at least mostly) period instruments, both conducted by Anu Tali. [Update: NY Times (Tomasini) review here.]

I ended up, pretty much by chance, sitting with Greg Sandow.  As he wrote about here and here, he was quite excited by the size and mix of the audience, and impressed by the eclecticism of the series. Greg writes that it was the Festival, not the artists themselves, that Lincoln Center marketed.

They didn’t advertise programming or stars, didn’t stress the names of the performers or the composers whose music they were going to play. They marketed the festival. Which for me is crucial. People normally go out at night to have an experience. They want to do something that’ll be fun, or meaningful, something they think they’ll enjoy, that will mean something to them.

Greg’s on the money there, although I’d disagree about the advertising.  They marketed the festival and the individual artists.  My own take is that it was a pretty even mix of both.  Certainly many–perhaps all–of the individual performers/groups have their own, significant followings.  Emanuel Ax certainly has his fan base, and Tyondai Braxton, for example, has another. The promo emails I received, especially the ones advertising 50%-off tickets available at the Rubenstein Atrium, and posters I saw featured the performers and composers, as did the Google ads that appear at the top of my email.  What seems to have worked here is that the followings got mashed up.

I picked the more non-traditional events to attend, since that’s my particular interest right now, but by the end of the series I wished I’d been to all the concerts and experienced the entire mix.  As the festival progressed, and perhaps before it began, there may have been many of us who having been to one great event, decided to trust that the others would be worthwhile as well, even if the concert wasn’t one we’d usually pick on its own.  As the followings got intermingled, probably each of us found him or herself a new fan of someone they hadn’t heard (or heard of) before. It was the entire “mash-up” (as Jane Moss, the Vice President for Programming called it in her program note) that was the thing.

I’ve called [le] poisson rouge a “shuffle venue,” where some people go just to be there, because it’s a cool place and they trust that whatever/whoever is playing will be good. (“Shuffle” coming from the iPod function where different, often unrelated, tracks are played in random order in a way that beings often interesting and pleasant surprises and juxtapositions.)

Tully Scope was what you might call a shuffle series:  a seemingly random mix of widely divergent, terrific performances, which you just wanted to hear–and see–all of.

The gorgeous Tully lobby is a great place to hang out–that’s so important in these changing times.  Free glass of sparkling wine after the concerts, creating a party atmosphere.  And tickets just $20, once one was purchased at full price, a great incentive to buy a package.  Didn’t do that?  There were half-price tickets for many of the events available on the day of the performance.  So it was affordable.

The very different staging and lighting designs for each event were engaging and, to me, delightful.  It was like a different hall for each event.  The final Goebbels concert had a two-tiered stage, with strings on the stage and winds, brass, and percussion on connected risers the width of the stage about 3 feet high.  Quite striking.  So were the lighting cues, which made heavy use of different colors, spotlights, fading, etc., even floor lamps.

This was not just people playing and/or singing on a stage.  This was an event where the visual aspect, the theatrical aspect, was embraced in a significant way.

We are increasingly creatures of YouTube, for better or worse. We live in not just a music iPod culture, but a video iPod culture.  Audiences under forty, and especially under thirty–who are so crucial to develop–want, even need, visual stimulation and engagement.  The folks at Tully did a great job, among other things, of providing that.

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Filed under Alice Tully Hall, audeince building, Festivals/Series, Greg Sandow, Heiner Goebbels, innovative marketing, Le Poisson Rouge, Lincoln Center, Shuffle Venues/Series, Tully Scope 2011

Getting college undergrads to hear classical music: some things that have worked

Greg Sandow’s starting his work to empower University of Maryland music students to get students their age to classical concerts.  He’s facilitated excellent work there before, and it will be interesting to read his ongoing reports about this year’s project.

I’m on sabbatical this semester and not teaching at DePauw.  The last four years or so, I had my first-year seminar students produce an event that was specifically designed to bring in non-music students.  My requirement has been that it had to include some classical music, but was not restricted to classical music, and had to bring in an audience of non-music students. Here’s what we’ve found worked:

  • Have the event somewhere other than a School of Music performance hall.
  • Include free food.
  • Locate the event in a central location with lots of walk-by traffic.  In our case, this has usually meant the Ballroom in the Union Building.  Not only is it smack dab in the middle of campus, so people walk through it on the way to other places, but also the food court is there.
  • Combine all sorts of genres.
  • Have an MC or MCs (last year we had a pair of young women who had incredible comedic chemistry) which helps with audience interaction. And no printed programs.
  • Have greeters to welcome people (and encourage passers-by).
  • Have eye catching posters, etc.
  • Facebook invitations.
  • Personal invitation!
  • I would have thought Twitter tweets, but, to my surprise, few of my first-year (what much of the rest of the world calls freshmen) students used Twitter, and perceived it as something that older (i.e., middle aged) people use.
  • Some improvised pieces.
  • A concluding drum circle-like jam including anyone in the audience who wanted to participate.

They’ve typically gotten about 150 students to their end-of-semester events, much more than one sees at any official School of Music concert (except for, perhaps, combined choral-orchestra events where if everyone’s roommate comes you get that many.  Some aspects, like the audience-included ending jam, are surely what brought the audience in, since that part wasn’t (usually) publicized.

What has worked especially well is that the students have had a clear sense that it’s an event in which the audience are understood to be participants, not silent observers.  We always read a good chunk of Christopher Small, especially this lecture, which leads to reimagingig a “concert” as a social “musicking” event.

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Filed under audeince building, Christopher Small, DePauw, future of classical music, Greg Sandow, musical entrepreneurship, Musicking

Quick Thoughts

What if I wrote a new post every day?  (This thought inspired by a recent viewing of Julie and Julia.)  Even if I didn’t have much to say?  Maybe I’d turn out to have something to say.

Quick thoughts:

State of the Union: watched 2 minutes and turned it off.  Actions speak louder than words and I haven’t seen much action when it comes to LGBT issues, and Obama and the Democrats haven’t been able to do anything about the absolutely ridiculous medical insurance issues in this country.  So I’m not interested in speeches.  Show me the gays in the military!  My son is considering a military career after he graduates from college.  I’m proud of him.  If we were gay, what the hell difference would it make?  He’s brilliant and speaks Chinese. Right now my feeling towards Obama is, well, unpritntable.  But I would vote for him over Sarah Palin no matter what.

The Future (?) of Classical Music: Greg Sandow’s having another go at his book.  This time it looks like he’s going to make it.  (“This time I know our side will win,” Henried to Bogart in Casablanca. Mainstream classical music institutions?  Not so sure.)  Absolutely fascinating stuff.  Read it.

My Big Gay Ears: Mine are big, but not as unabashedly gay, or hearing as much, as Jody Dalton’s.  His blog on LGBT musicians just came into my life.  It’s great.  Sometimes I’m tempted to degay my punlic presence a bit in case some prospective student or student’s parent is put off.  Really, though, I don’t give a fuck.  Have a problem with gay people?  Then you really should study with some0ne else.  I’ll be around once you come out.

I knew Jody slightly through a mutual friend years ago, and am delighted to have reconnected.  It’s been 20 years or so.

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Filed under being out, Don't Tell (screw that), gay issues, Greg Sandow, Obama