In Present What You Do I advocated for early engagement work to flow, where possible, from programming already planned and contextualized around the interests of communities. Serendipitously (there’s a word I don’t often get to use), at about the time that post was published, Gus Denhard from Early Music Seattle got in touch to tell me about a program they had done in December that does a good job of illustrating the point. (Long-time readers may remember that this is not the first time they have been featured here.)
They had presented Vivaldi’s Magnificat, Laetatus Sum, and Gloria written for the girls orphanage Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where Vivaldi worked first as violin instructor and later as concert master. Concerned with original performance practice of early music, the Seattle group organized this as an all female performance as originally intended. Beginning two years ago, they assembled an ensemble, chorus, and conductor. (Vivaldi as Written–For Women)
This performance was entirely in keeping with EMS’s core mission of presenting early music as accurately as possible. What stands out about the production is how they have contextualized it. There is no way that two years ago they could have predicted the #MeToo movement or the conversations about the roles of women in contemporary society. What they did do is embrace the contemporary moment and use the performance as a means of exploring women’s roles in music and society more generally. They arranged a short documentary on the rehearsal and performance process and a community screening and panel discussion of the video on February 24.
Successful contextualization requires an awareness of community interests, an understanding of the work as a resource for community improvement, and a willingness to put forth the effort to be that kind of resource. It would have been difficult for anyone to be unaware of the issues #MeToo has raised. But for an early music ensemble to recognize that they had a vehicle for addressing a contemporary concern and to go the extra mile to serve that end is remarkable. Congratulations!
And it should not be lost on anyone that they sold more tickets to the concert and were able to create another ticketed event as a result of this community awareness.