Category Archives: non-traditional concerts

Tonight (3/16): Weber & Beatboxing & Juggling &, &, &

If you’re a cellist or cello-music lover, you’re probably familiar with the delightful Carl Maria von Weber Adagio & Rondo, arranged for cello and piano by Gregor Piatigorsky. Lovely & fun short virtuoso salon piece.

It probably never occurred to you that what it needs is a beat boxer beatboxing during the Adagio and a juggler juggling during the somewhat circus-like 6/8 Rondo.  Me neither. Sounds like great fun, something very different. Talk about alternative presentation of classical music!

Luckily, it did occur to the minds behind the New York musicians’ collective the International Street Cannibals.  Who have invited me to perform with them.  So I’ll be playing that Weber-Piatigorsky piece, with beatboxing and juggling, as part of tonight’s 8:30 PM program, “&,” at St. Mark’s in the Bowery, an important NY alternative performance space as well as an Episcopal Church (directions and Google map).

Lots of other music and performance art on the program, including the slow movement of the Schubert Death & the Maiden quartet, the timbres darkened by having the second violin part played on viola and the viola part played on a cello.  (I’ll be holding down the actual cello part on a cello, albeit a carbon-fiber one.)  There will also be a Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue performed by the awesome pianist Taka Kigawa, the wonderful composer Gene Pritsker’s new Sex & Death, Dan Barrett‘s arrangement of Heart & Soul . . . and much, much more.

The music is all something & something.

And it’s music & dancing, music & juggling, music & devil sticking, music & . . .

No wonder the program is titled, simply,


Wednesday, March 16
8:30 PM
St Mark’s in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street, NYC

Admission $15



Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Eric Edberg performances, non-traditional concerts

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

What If You Gave a Non-Traditional Concert and No One Clapped Betwen Movements?

Gavin Borchert argues in a Seattle Weekly review that non-traditional concerts, with applause encouraged between movements, are not the innovation that will save classical music. He contrasts the experiences of two Chiara Quartet (website motto: “chamber music in any chamber!”) concerts, two nights in a row: one in the traditional Meany Hall, one at a bar. Despite encouragement to do otherwise, the small audience at the Tractor Bar was quiet and reluctant to clap between movements, even when reminded by the quartet’s cellist that they had permission to do so.

So what have we learned? Well, maybe people behave the way they do at concerts not because it’s an artificial standard imposed by ironclad tradition but because the music sounds better that way. Maybe listeners feel classical music most deeply when they pay quiet attention to it. Maybe sometimes not clapping is OK, and we don’t need to rush in and obliterate every silence. Maybe true innovations in concert presentation—new ways of getting music and music lovers together—will be concerned not with questions of formal vs. informal, loose vs. uptight, but with what setting best allows music to work its magic.

He makes some good points, and the article is well worth reading. Of course, generalizing from one or two experiments doesn’t provide much predictive value. Despite having experimented with a concert in which the audience was encouraged to clap and dance whenever they wanted, I like quiet while I listen. Applause between movements? Well, with some works, such as Romantic symphonies, we know it was the standard practice of the time and expected and often encouraged by composers. So it feels extremely artificial to me to keep people from clapping after the rousing, bombastic finish of a first movement. But that doesn’t mean I would prefer noise during the music.

One thing Borchert doesn’t address is how many of the 40-50 people he says attended the Tractor Bar concert were people who don’t otherwise attend classical concerts (which he couldn’t know unless there was a poll taken). If most of the audience were Chiara quartet or general classical-music fans who are already part of the traditional audience concert culture, it’s no surprise they behaved as we’ve been trained, regardless of the alternative environment.

The dilemma is this, it seems to me. The current audience of regular concert goers likes things the way they are. The question is what do we do to bring in new audiences who really are put off by the formality of the concert environment. Borchert is right that informality in and of itself is not the answer, and that quiet listening is a good way to experience classical music. “[T]he fidgetless focus of the thoroughly absorbed,” he accurately calls it.

My intuition, and that’s all it is at this point, since I’m unaware of any data on the subject, is that there nevertheless a very powerful long-term role that informal, interactive concerts can play in building a wider, or additional, audience. That doesn’t mean we need to do away with traditional, formal, concerts with silent (especially during the music!) audiences. But neither should we dismiss alternate-format experimentation. “Chamber music in any chamber.” I like that.

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Filed under Chiara Quartet, non-traditional concerts