Category Archives: Musicking

Audience-Building Thoughts at the Football Game

One of my new School of Music colleagues works from about 8:00 Am to 11:00 PM or midnight.  (I know this because he’s renting a room from me until he and his wife can sell their house in the state whence he came to DePauw. So much for those who think college professors, especially at undergraduate teaching universities, have a light workload.  With all the prep work, especially as a new faculty ember, it’s easily a 60-80 hour per week gig.)

So I called him this morning and told him he had to take a break and let’s walk over and watch at least the first half of the football game.

As we sat there and I looked at all the students there–so many more, even on the field, than come to a major ensemble concert, I wondered, how would we get them to a concert?  Voluntarily? These thoughts crystallized for me:

  • Undergraduate music majors should be engaged in a four-year conversation about and experiment in getting students their own age to classical concerts.
  • This can include permission and empowerment to create new-format musicking events.
  • A great project would be to have a class or a self-selected group go to athletic events and interview students there to find out what their history is with classical music and what would attract them to an event including classical music.  (The success my first-year seminar students have had in the past has come, in part, from informal interviews of their friends who gave them ideas for an event.)

This question sprang to mind: what would it take to get the entire football team to come to an orchestra concert? (Or a choir concert;  as a cellist, things like orchestra concerts tend to materialize in my imagination before others.)  The corollary, of course, is, what could the orchestra or choir do for the football (or basketball or track) team in return?

Which got me thinking: what do college music ensembles do to visibly contribute to the life of the whole college/university community.  Sure, we put on concerts that anyone can come to.  But they don’t.  Our traditional concerts are in many ways, public class presentations. On some level they are perceived that way.  What does a music school or department do to genuinely make a difference in the life of the community?  What do we do to be perceived as and genuinely be central to the life of the academic/creative/social organism?

I looked at the young men in front of me enthusiastically cheering on the DePauw Tigers, who were easily trouncing the Rose Hulman Engineers. I imagined they had been to few if any symphony orchestra concerts.  Our students need to talk to them. How do we get the entire university community to feel the same sense of identification with the choirs, orchestra, and concert band that they do with the sports teams.  (By the way, we are a Division something-or-other school with no athletic scholarships, so our teams are made up of genuine student athletes, many of whom are truly scholars.)

I don’t know the answer.  My intuition and my intellect say that in large part it means getting musical performances out of the sacred caves we call concert halls–which at DePauw, as at many schools, are pretty well hidden.

It’s a challenge for those of us teaching music on the college/university level.  Especially for those of us over 50, the job is less for us to figure it out ourselves than to empower and facilitate our students in discovering and creating.  Not to say that I wouldn’t encourage ensemble directors to get together with the coaches and sports teams and brainstorm on how each organization could help the other.

Recovering from an illness, I made it through the first half of the game.  The vision of the entire DePauw Tigers football team at a DePauw Symphony concert is still burning in my imagination.

Each of us in music education (in every domain–primary, secondary, and collegiate) would do well to be letting our imaginations run wild, challenging our young student friends, and experimenting like crazy.



Filed under audeince building, DePauw, future of college/university music education, Musicking, non-traditional concerts

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