June 23, 2005
Meet and Greet
This is my last morning in Hong Kong. I will respond to your note the next time I log on, but today, I want to share with you my thoughts about last night’s post-concert experience. Oh yes, just in case you are wondering what I’m doing at my computer in the morning, writing to you rather than enjoying a walk by Kowloon Bay, it’s because it is raining. Today, it is a soft, gentle rain, which reminds me of a wonderful summer afternoon spent under a tent in the woods.
After last night’s performance, I went out to the lobby area of the Cultural Centre to greet members of the audience. It always gives me great pleasure to chat with my audiences, and last night was no exception. People were warm and generous, and while some were shy and others less so, I appreciated being able to converse with them, or simply to respond to a request for an autograph.
One of the (many) issues we face in the classical music business is that of the created distance between performers and audiences. Many of us feel that this is unnecessary and is distancing potential music lovers. While others feel the need for that distance believing that the arts (and music)* deserve respect and should prevent themselves from becoming “ordinary” and therefore “mundane.” I do agree that there are ways of respecting tradition and supporting the preservation of “high art forms,” but I do not think that this means music should not be popular. I have also encountered an attitude that if one makes oneself too available, one is selling oneself too cheaply. “Value” or “worth” therefore declines as does respect towards the artist and his or her artistry. From a marketing point of view, some believed that an artist needed an element of mystery. Particularly in classical music, the sense that it must be distinguished from pop culture may contribute to classical musicians appearing a bit aloof. I will not make further comments here, but feel free to read between my lines.
I certainly do feel that music is a great privilege bestowed on those who have had the opportunity to experience it. This is not to say that music is elitist or so specialized that it only concerns a particular group of people. Rather, I feel that music is a wonderful—almost miraculous—mechanism to externalize and to communicate our entire range of psyche in an aesthetically pleasing, socially acceptable, and emotionally supporting manner. It is only “almost miraculous” because music was created by humans and not by super-humans. Essentially, the arts enable one to commune with oneself (emotionally, physically, and experientially) and with each other. Ultimately, music exists within the soul of individuals and, when unlocked, only continues to enrich us in our awareness of being.
I did go off on a tangent, but going back to the post-concert greeting, and the issue of a gap between performers and audiences, I stand on the side of advocating for “humanizing” the concert experience. I believe this is important because anything that enables performers and audiences to interact and encourages listeners to be receptive is beneficial. “Meet and Greet” is not the only way in which performers and audiences can interact. It is only one of many, and I look forward to exploring other possibilities.
I have to mention some obstacles I encounter when trying to have direct contact with audiences, such as by going out to say “hello” after performances. The resistance frequently comes from concert organizers, who cite one or more of the following:
We only want you to meet the sponsors because they are very supportive and very special. They will not wait for you to come to the reception unless you come immediately after the concert;
We have never done a “Meet and Greet” before;
We don’t have the staff to handle it. I have to consult the security officer;
There are going to be too many people;
You MUST be exhausted;
We do not have a way of letting people know that you will be coming out to the lobby; not everyone will get to meet you, and those who find out about it later will complain.
While some artists do formal signing sessions of their CDs after performances, I prefer to do this informally. I like to chat, answer questions, listen to the listeners’ points of view, etc. Signing autographs and taking photos are fine, too, but it is the “human touch” that is welcomed and appreciated.
Doug, how do you think artists and organizers both in the East and the West can work together to promote a more natural way of interaction? This issue crosses cultural boundaries; we need to put our heads together.
* Although as a musician I often say "music" but I believe that many of these points apply to the arts in general. Therefore, I use the two words interchangeably.
Posted by at June 23, 2005 12:03 PM
Posted by: Pauline Thompson at June 23, 2005 4:49 PM
I am so glad to hear your comments about concert organizers, performers and the audiences. As a performing oboist, I have also encountered difficulties with concert organizers disagree with "Meet and Greet" after the concert or insisting on repertoire that could easily turn the audience away from wind music. As Doug suggested that repertoire could be a bridge to connect with the audience which most of the musicians I know take this issue seriously. I also believe that communicating with the audience personally without the instruments is a powerful tool. I would be interested in hearing how you negotiate these issues with the concert organizers.
Posted by: Rong-Huey Liu at June 24, 2005 7:29 AM