Category Archives: Christopher Small

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