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Engaging Art was a blog leading up to the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual conference in Nashville, June 21, 2007. The June 21st entries in this blog were created live at a three-hour live session in Nashville. Preceding that, 12 bloggers discussed the topic online. You can see the discussion from first entry to last by going here. Or you can read the blog by date.
daily archives: June 21, 2007 | June 20, 2007 | June 19, 2007 | June 18, 2007 | June 17, 2007 | June 16, 2007 | June 15, 2007 | June 14, 2007 | June 13, 2007 | June 12, 2007 | June 8, 2007 |

June 21, 2007

Thanks for Playing

by Douglas McLennan

During Thursday's three-hour session in Nashville we served more than 10,000 pages, with 3,500 visitors to the blog. Readers from all over the world contributed comments and our crack team of Orchestra League fellows were swamped monitoring the comments. We were so backlogged by late in the session that our server began returning error messages to those in the room who were trying to submit. We had to limit the number of photos we posted live because we were overwhelmed with all the pictures.

Some of those pictures are posted here. I can immediately see ways we could make this better for those following on the web (audio and video are the obvious adds). And there are ways we could enrich the experience in the room, too. But overall, I'd say it was a great experiment in offering multiple layers that people could delve into. The level of comments from the audience was terrific - very thoughtful. We learned a lot. I'll leave the comments section open for a week or so for anyone who wants to follow up on the blog.

Lastly - I want to commend the ASOL for trying this. It was a big risk with no obvious model, and it could have been a big bust. But Jesse Rosen and his staff are serious about exploring new ways of interacting with audiences. If you're going to have a meeting about changing relationships with art, what better way to demonstrate it that trying something new and unconventional with your own audience?

Thanks to all the bloggers and hundreds of commenters. Thanks also to the Orchestra Fellows - Kareem George, Katie Wyatt, Lisa Bryington, Lisa Bryington, Michael Manley, and Stephanie Trautwein - for facilitating the comments flow during the live session. And the intrepid Molly Sheridan, who blogged the session while it was going on. Anastasia Boudanoque is a force of nature, figuring out logistics and keeping the trains running. Julia Kirchhausen is a collaborator in the best sense of the word. And I warn anyone who has the fortune to work with Sandra Mandel and Katherine Klenn that you better go into training to keep up with them. The tech volunteers from Vanderbilt were unflappable and professional in the best senee of the word. And the Renaissance Hotel tech team made a complicated setup look easy. Lastly, Jesse was a great partner - insisting on sensible answers to frame was was going to happen, yet making enough room to think about the issues creatively. None of this would have been possible without all of these people. Thanks!

Posted at 9:19 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Realtime Panel Discussion

by Molly Sheridan

Steve Tepper has kicked off the live discussion portion of this event with an audience survey. How many people use current technology features--message boards, podcasts, blogs, YouTube, video previews of their concerts--within their own organizations? The result: Not very many. But Conner suggests it will be important to develop in these areas if we want to attract young people who are interested in music in general. Bertozzi says that deepening technology will be mirrored by a desire to engage in live performances.

Conner says we do not "bowl alone". People are spending money going out; they're not home watching TV. But they're not necessarily in the concert hall. Gillinson stresses the fundamental shift that has a occurred on both sides of the pond due to a general lack of education in the arts. And the older people get, the more threatened they are by having to learn new things.

Q: Many people attend student concerts but not professional groups. Why?

McBurney suggests it's an issue of expense. Gillinson follows up that it's just an individual preference. Assink adds that it's not just cost, but also a connection to knowing the people making the music.

Q: How can an orchestra participate in unleashing the creativity of their audiences beyond public school education?

Assink says we need to connect with families, not just schools, when it comes to educating young people, supporting their child's musical training.

Q: Do we need money to do these things? What's the equation?

Conner: What we've discovered in Pittsburgh is that the money is incredibly important because you need to have talented mediators, not overburden/overworked individual doing other jobs in staff. It fails without dedicated individuals in those roles.

Q: In today's environment, how are we going to build our audience?

Assink suggest that on the low-tech side, why don't we have music clubs like we have book clubs.

McBurney says in Chicago they are using more elaborate screen projections that try to expand people's astonishment at what they can see. Close up images of a performer's manuscript to see what it is like. Also helps deal with the issue of intimate experience in large spaces.

Gillinson doesn't feel you need to be a musician to enjoy this music, but we are perceived a forbidding and we have to reach out much more.

Ivey takes the stage to conclude the session. He notes the hard line between the authors on the first half who saw big change ahead, as compared with the administrators who spoke during the second half and said things are not that bad and maybe we just need to proceed doing the excellent work that orchestras do.

But Ivey wonders: Who will be the future participants? Gen X and Y like music because "it is the soundtrack of life" and "it's a badge of cool." There are problems and opportunities there for the symphonic field. They like choice and control, they want all access (before/after/onstage and off). They want skillful, meaningful content, and they're looking for people to lead them. Passive, lackluster shows will not interest them.


Whew! We (and the technology) made it. Thanks for reading and writing in!

Posted at 3:09 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Another Picture

by Douglas McLennan


Continue reading "Another Picture"

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A Picture

by Douglas McLennan


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Reactions to the Book from the Field

by Molly Sheridan

Gerard McBurney is up first. (You should read this part of the post in a charming British accent for full effect--adds impact, let me tell you.)

McBurney brings his dual-coast experience abroad and at the Chicago Symphony to this discussion. He is struck by the traditional arts audience member's unfortunate instinct to only look for two traditional key characteristics at a classical concert: it should be familiar and uplifting. He also draws attention the importance placed on performers over pieces. These are the points we focus on when discussing the art, so that's how we listen: in comparison. McBurney's professional focus is on exploring what the composer meant, and he urges us to focus on the interplay between the composition and the performance.

In the book, McBurney takes issue with the use of the word "consumption" when talking about art: paying for something does not mean you eat it. The audience member must be a participant, but only in the sense that he or she is an extremely active (i.e. alert) listener. Live performance is not a relaxing massage.

Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director, Carnegie Hall (and also British), agrees with the authors that the challenges are huge and it's a very exciting time of change, but when you stand back it requires an act of faith that this extraordinary art will continue to matter to people, even if the economic model is not clear right now.

But he has some concerns. The book is focused on America, missing the broader picture/world. He also finds the scope of the book too wide in terms of the art forms it explores (i.e. not just the complex ones like the orchestral world), and that might lead to some false conclusions. He also cautions against drawing direct parallels with other arts institutions. We are not an art gallery. But we also don't have to become a cathdral. We can go on about concert dress and such, but who has walked out of a great concert and said they loved it but wished the musicians had been wearing different clothes.

When it comes to concerns about 21st-century audience engagement, we do need devote resources to education, and we need to ensure that there aren't barriers to access. There's no problem if they don't want to come, but we have to have given them the chance. Increased creativity (witnessed online) is great, but this so-called creativity prevalent in culture right now can be an avalanche. Good for people, but much of it is boring to a wider general audience.

Infinite choice is just as difficult as no choice at all. The role that communities play in selection is very important in helping people not waste time and highlights the fact that we're all desperately going to need people who can help up, show us where to look across this wealth of content.

Brent Assink, executive director, San Francisco Symphony (and not British), gets an early cheer from the crowd when he announces that people love live orchestra performances. His comments this afternoon focused on how right the orchestra concert experience is as it is based on the great concerts he has witnessed. His position is that we need to keep audience in the dark literally, but not figuratively. People come to the halls even though they could stay home and hear it on CD. They spend a lot of money and time to come to shows. Something more is at work not fully addressed in the essays. Audiences dictate not only what they are going to hear but how it will be played. The exchange of energy between the stage and the audiences makes that possible. Pre- and post-concert talks and program notes help support that situation. Education broadens the experience and allows them to be better participants. They don't want to co-author, he argues. Audeinces are looking for expert guidance.

Vanessa's chapter inspires him that future generations of creative people will become very enthusiastic audiences in our concert halls. More than any group, we should be encouraging the young people who play musical instruments, encourage them to write for orchestras and chamber ensembles. More than any factor, this is the most siginificant indication of future attendance.

At the end of the day, he says, this is all a mystery. It's not about the analysis and research in the end. We are in a wonderful position, let's focus on doing what we do with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

Here are your questions:

  • How would you define success for your organization ten years from now, what would it look like?
  • What one action do you intend to take when you get home?
  • What big, unanswered questions remain for you?

Now, talk amongst yourselves. I need some coffee.

Posted at 2:28 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (2)

Say What?

by Molly Sheridan

We're taking a short break for real world necessities. Wow, the kids are really typing in this room, as well as globally. Check out the comments if you haven't yet.

Posted at 1:43 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

3:30 p.m.

by Molly Sheridan

Steve Tepper is up to talk about how young people use technology to discover art that is important to them. Is the technology we're using today just a fad, here for good, or will there be a hybrid form that evolves out of it?

Tepper walks us through a history of technology and the arts since the phonograph. Whew, what timeline.

Today technology means we face unlimited choice. 20 million available tracks, 7 million blogs (blogs talking about those 20 million tracks?). This allows an amazing range of grazing. Tepper's research focuses on how college students are using technology. His stats: most listen to 15 different artists a week, almost half actively looking for new things to try. Social networks and MSM still mean a lot more (80% vs 40%) than technology--radio station listening and friends vs P2P. But there are fewer mavens--i.e. the people we look to to recommend music in our communities--active in the "classical" genre" as compared with other genres. Mavens are more important than the technology. Technology is a tool, not a driving behavior.

How can orchestras position themselves in this social networking world? This is the path to getting into young people's communities. Search through playlists on services like Rhapsody to find them.

When we discover something new, we like to share. People are looking for new things, but they want it to have social currency they can share with each other. The challenge is figuring out how we can do that.

Tepper had lots of great slides and talked very fast. I know I missed a lot of great content. Sorry. Please check out his chapter in the book if it catches your interest.

Posted at 1:33 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

3:10 p.m.

by Molly Sheridan

Lynne Conner is up next talking about early reactions to Waiting for Godot. Middle class audiences didn't get it, by and large, but another audience made up of a crowd of prisoners at San Quentin got it, and boy did they, motivated to analyze the work and actively engage with its subject matter.

Audiences historically have been much more involved in performances--to the point of sitting on the stage or making a performer repeat part of a performance they particularly liked. While we're being asked to welcome new levels of audience participation, this is not new and doesn't need to be feared--old audiences were not obscene or misbehaved. But arts organizations, led by orchestras it turns out, started this sacralization of the arts and correct audience behavior. Audiences have lost the opportunity to co-author the performance event, an opportunity sports fans have, which helps them analyze and enjoy the experience. Why not re-democratize the arts experience in this same way? People who can't talk and explore for themselves feel disengaged. People don't want art, but the arts experience.

The crowd is now back to pondering. Same questions as posted below.

Posted at 1:10 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (2)

Discussion Time

by Laura Jackson

Can we have more discussion time? We only have time for brief comments.

Posted at 12:52 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

2:50 p.m.

by Molly Sheridan

Vanessa Bertozzi, who has been participating all along in this AJ blog, is up first and has some great photos of Chloe and the cosplay folks she talks about in her chapter in the book. Check in with her website to catch up on her work and take a look yourself.

The focus of her comments comes to a simple point that these new active cultures common among today's artistic young people represent a great community of enthusiastic arts participants, but they want to know all the background and participate with the artists. Her conclusion as it applies to orchestras is that the music is great; there's no problem there. New ways for the audience to participate alongside will not only be inspiring, they'll possibly be fundamental.

Questions to ponder here in the room and at home:

  • How is this concept different from the world you know?
  • In what ways do these forms of engagement represent opportunities and/or challenges for orchestras?

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A Grainy Picture of Molly Blogging

by Douglas McLennan

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Another Picture

by Douglas McLennan


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