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June 19, 2007

Make the Whole Community the Greenhouse

by Vanessa Bertozzi
"What if a foundation fully funded (100%) an orchestra whose mission was to innovate and test ways of engaging audiences? What if this orchestra had musicians who agreed to no rules and a music director who really got the mission? Imagine how much we could learn. And how much fun it would be working for an orchestra like that."--Ed Cambron
"We should have three or four orchestras in the U.S. whose bottom lines are fully underwritten so that they can serve as greenhouse sites for trying out new ways of making music, new governance models, new relationships with musicians, etc. While we squeeze the current model harder and harder, at the same time we have to completely re-imagine a new model, and that's the work that's not being done. We need a new sense of possibility for what a music organization can mean to a community."--Alan Brown

Can we really do that? That would be absolutely amazing. It sounds like Lynne Connor is already on the right track.

I want to unpack a bit this notion of the meat of the concert vs. the periphery, the before and after. Alan Brown has "to disagree that the greatest potential for engaging audiences lies around the periphery of the concert experience - either before or after." He feels that "people who go to pre-concert lectures and post-performance discussions are the ones who are already knowledgeable about the art form." But if we take a step back and reflect upon the coming changes with the younger generations coming up, we could think of participation in the arts as an ongoing relationship between the performers and the community. Yes, changes to the format of the concert itself, the dress code, the facial expressions, and the venue and such would be a great start. But at the periphery lies much much more than pre-and post-concert lectures, the format of which can be dry and traditional.

In my and Henry's research, we've found young people want:

• access to information, art and media online and offline
• relatively low barriers of entry as a newbie
• a chance to get their voices heard, whether in analyzing work or creating it
• access to other people, peers and mentors, with complimentary skills & experiences
• flexibility in the roles of being a producer or consumer
• the tools and resources to find their niche and become knowledgeable and skilled

I would like to see these greenhouse orchestras interact with the community in a way much more integrated with everyday life. What if a whole community's members' iTunes playlists were shared with what the musicians themselves were listening to? Or the musicians could have open houses as they practiced in public spaces? What if the children learned how to play a version of a piece and, afterschool, parents could learn to accompany them? What if a composer-in-residence collaborated with local musicians and songwriters on a piece inspired by the community--its history, locale, ethnic makeup? Deeper access to more information and background details about the music and people involved could be accessed online through multi-media content. Networks of fans of particular composers could be fostered in a combination of online interaction and real life performances. Mediators, as Lynne recommends, would guide discussion and facilitators could help with hands-on informal learning. On-site and travel, exchange programs could explore the nooks and crannies behind the stage curtain, through the histories of composers' relationships to their times and homelands.

I was surprised by the comments on this discussion about the dissatisfaction of musicians themselves. I have neither played professionally nor have I worked for an orchestra, so my bias in my thinking leads me to reflection on how to engage audience members. However, I suspect that if these greenhouse orchestras are to succeed, you'll need the full participation of the musicians themselves. This may mean giving up some of the hierarchical structure--and giving the musicians more agency.

These are my musings, but really, if we push the envelope, we could have a "sense of the possibility for what a music organization can mean to a community." I see this happening through the integration of hands-on new media literacy and technological support, combined with mentorships between generations, between producers and consumers. It should be done on a grassroots level with active planning and participation from people in the community as well as orchestras (heads and musicians) and schools.

Imagine a greehouse community with the orchestra as one, strong interwoven thread!

Posted by vbertozzi at June 19, 2007 6:45 PM


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