Good things: Greg Anderson

The future of classical music is already here. New ways of doing things are springing up everywhere. It’s exciting, and tremendously hopeful. Many of these new things have proved themselves. They’re no longer experiments; they’re a concrete look at the future.

But one problem is that not enough people know about them.

These things sprout up individually. There isn’t anywhere you can go — no website, no institution, not even any individual — to find out about them. Information spreads by word of mouth. Often enough, even the people doing these new things don’t know what others are doing.

I’ve talked a lot about the problems classical music has, and I’ll do that more. But I want to start devoting more space to the terrific changes that are going on. And for today, that’s Greg Anderson and his website. Greg is a pianist, who took my Juilliard course on the future of classical music last year. (For this year’s course, with links to the assignments, go here. For a week by week account of how I taught the course in the past, go”>here. This account, by the way, was printed some years ago in the Journal of Popular Music Studies.)

But back to Greg. He’s one of the most enterprising and optimistic people I’ve ever known. And his website just overflows with his spirit, his sense of fun, his love of music, and his real interest in his audience. Among the highlights:

Greg’s very hot video of himself playing a Ligeti etude. This is also on his MySpace page, and on YouTube. No, wait — it’s not on MySpace. On that page there’s another video, of Greg and another pianist he works with in a fine duo-piano team, Elizabeth Roe. (Who also took my Juilliard course.) Here’s the Ligeti video: from site visitors about what they like in a performance. Greg’s own comments on what to do when you’re in the audience. Some of these are worth quoting:

Clap when you feel so inclined.

Return any boorish looks you get for doing so with proud defiance.

If people take it up with you during intermission, quote the Boston Daily Advertiser from the 22nd of May in 1873: “Every passage [of Rubinstein’s concerto] was warmly applauded.” Or mention that Hans von Bülow would brag to his colleagues about the applause he routinely received after the opening cadenza of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto. Or tell them about Mozart: Mozart wrote letters to his father boasting of how frequently (during a piece) an audience would clap. Philosophize with your perturbed audience members as well – by applauding midway through a work, it helps to keep the listener an active participant in the concert, entailing both knowledge and attention.

 In other words, don’t be AFRAID to applaud – between movements, at the end, or when it simply feels right. Nothing is worse than hesitant applause.


Turn off the excessive chatter in your mind. Who cares about tomorrow’s dinner? Who cares if you have loads of homework to finish? Enjoy the music! Listen to it’s beauty, think about how it makes you feel, ask yourself, “does this remind me of any moment in my life?” Conceptualize its color or texture. Create a storyline. Find relationships among pieces or movements on the program. Ask yourself, “where is this music going next?” Can you predict the direction it will take, or is it something more ambiguous?

Two recent signs of Greg’s success: Greg recently released a CD, and he’s made a profit from it, thanks to sales on his site, from MySpace, and at concerts. And one notable classical music organization is looking at the site, which was recommended by someone on the staff as a good example of how a performer can get enthusiastic attention.

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  1. says

    I just viewed the Greg Anderson video, and one thing comes to mind

    that’s probably true of many more areas than just music: it’s no longer

    just about the music. As Tom Peters would say, it’s about Brand You.

    When I was growing up, it seemed in my naive view as if it would be

    sufficient to be a virtuoso performer to ensure success. People had the

    context from their education, I thought, to understand the import of

    what they’d hear in a concert.

    Greg set the context nicely with his very short verbal introduction.

    The video processing reinforced that context, and it varied over the

    course of the performance, much as the music varied over the course of

    the performance.

    I’m beginning to wonder if what we’ve done is to take the responsibility

    for the context-setting that used to reside with educational

    institutions (all those music literature and largely European history

    courses) and moved it to the performer. Now the performer needs to help

    the hearer understand the context (Greg’s opening statements). The

    performer needs to help the hearer get excited about the work (the

    opening shots, the staging, and the video processing), and the performer

    has to deliver on the goods (the actual piano playing).

    With entertainment as the goal, the competent or even inspiring

    performance of the music is a necessary but by no means sufficent

    criterion for success, as measured by engaging an audience and by

    receiving sufficient compensation. A good musician thus may need

    performance skills, writing and speaking skills, and video design and

    production skills; some of those can be “outsourced” to collaborators.

    How much do music schools teach about these other parts of entertainment


    Music schools are only just beginning to address this. “Entrepreneurship”

    is currently a hot buzzword on the conservatory circuit, but how far any actual training in it goes — well, that’s developing.

    I think that to some extent what you’re describing here has always been true. Popular musical performers were branded just as much in the past (though the term wasn’t in use) as they can be now. But then classical music affected to withdraw from the entertainment arena, and the very idea became disreputable, even while it continued happening. But with the decline of the mainstream classical audience, the need for it couldn’t be greater. And the opportunities — and the sheer fun of it (as Greg Anderson demonstrates) — are equally great.

  2. Bill Brice says

    Just what we don’t need… a set of rules to replace the existing rules. Greg’s advice about casting “defiant looks” at non-clappers is drearily reminiscent of the “war on Christmas” crowd of 2005. Clap between movements if you feel like it. Clap in media res, if you must… but please don’t turn the concert experience into a “war on clapping”. Unless, of course, you have a book about it to hype on Fox News!