Success story

Here’s something really heartening, from Ariel Davis, a student who found that her local orchestra was reading her blog — and taking it seriously. She e-mailed all this to me, and I’m posting it with her permission (though we took out specifics about exactly who’s involved, because the orchestra in question may not be expecting any public discussion of what they’ve done):

Greg, I know you get tons of e-mails, and I’ve e-mailed you several times before (and made a few comments on the first version of your book). I don’t mean to take up a lot of your time, but I wanted to tell you about something related to a comment you made months ago on your blog. (Right now, I’m the fine arts editor at my university’s publication.)

I made a comment on your old book draft, and you plugged my old blog, “Writers Block” and suggested that many symphony orchestras should be listening to what I have to say, because I’m a 21 year old avid concert-goer. I was very flattered, but surprised. I didn’t think that anyone would want to listen to what I had to say.

Fast forward to yesterday. I had plans to meet with the conductor of the small orchestra in my town. I was to interview him for a profile, but when I arrived at the offices, two of the marketing directors were there, and they had arranged (which I had no idea of until I arrived, but word was around that I was coming) for us to all sit down and start brainstorming ideas about getting young people to buy tickets to the symphony. So I was politely questioned for 45 minutes, and they took notes. At the end of the “meeting” they had found a way to utilize the charms of the composer in residence, (my suggestion, since he seems to attract women) for a orchestra sponsored party at my university campus, where he would DJ, etc.

It turns out that the conductor, and many of the staff at the symphony had been reading “Writers Block” and found my concert comments to be very valuable. Orchestras are listening, and I never believed that before yesterday.

Ariel’s new blog is “The Stranger in Seat Twelve”; in it you’ll find all the contents of “Writer’s Block.” And here’s one of the fine comments Ariel posted about my book  (or rather about one of the discussions one of the book episodes provoked):

I completely agree with the points you made above in your reply to Andrea la Rose, especially about new music in concert programs. In addition to making music sound like the music in the outside world, I think it brings something fresh to concert programs.

Many people I know don’t attend concerts because they don’t think they’ll get anything new out of it than they will from listening to a recording. However, new music brings attendees that fresh experience that they are hoping for, and in that way, I think it might be a very effective way to attract patrons.

In addition, performers can also bring a “rarity” to concerts by, as you wrote, bringing their “individuality” to the performance. I’m not saying they should change a work so much that they stray too far from the original piece, but they should make it their own so that people are drawn to a performance because of this distinction, and recognize it’s rarity because of it.

In addition, I wish performers still wrote original cadenzas. If three different orchestras and performers were doing the same concerto at the same time, on the same night, and one of them was performing it with their own original cadenza, I’d be much more apt to buy a ticket to that show than the others. Why? Because it’s something new, different, fresh, and not too far removed from the original piece itself.

I enjoyed reading the section of Chapter 2 about the audience’s response to music in the concert hall. I admit that I feel a little restricted listening to music in a concert hall, because I can’t dance, I can’t sway, I can’t chatter to my friend about what to listen for next.

My father went to his first opera with me last year, and I hadn’t schooled him on etiquette. He yelled and shouted and made faces and laughed loudly. I was embarrassed, but then I realized, “Why should I be?” Why can’t watching an opera or listening to a concert be like watching a movie, more interactive and exciting?

I recently attended a concert, and at the start of the “William Tell Overture” the audience let out a collective “ah” in recognition of the familiar music. For the first time it hit me that I was experiencing the music with other people. Even though the show was sold out and the stage was filled with people, I didn’t realize that I was sharing the musical experience with other people, and if I was how would I know? The orchestra looked staid, the audience looked even more unaffected.

I had a similar experience at a Yo-Yo Ma concert with the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, Ma came on stage for a few encores and said “Help me!” requesting help for what to play. Immediately everyone started shouting out titles of pieces, and it was incredible. I felt like some big ice barrier between everyone had been broken, and I didn’t feel so restricted as I had before at concerts.

No matter how friendly everyone is, for me, personally as soon as I sit in a seat at concert hall, I enter this structured, environment where I’m very conscious of my actions–almost like being in school. I’m not comfortable, even if I’ve been millions of times, and I can see how new concert guests can be uncomfortable too.

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