As the fall gets under way, yesterday I spent the day at the University of Maryland at College Park, starting this year’s work on my project there, which is to work with students at the music school, encouraging and helping them to find an audience their own age. The most obvious place to look, of course, is on the College Park campus.
I met with some of my collaborators on the faculty and at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and talked to all the students in the school’s symphony orchestra, whose wonderful conductor, Jim Ross (one of the world’s great people), is one of the biggest reasons I ended up there.
I can barely tell you how exciting this is, or how important I think this project is, at least potentially. I can’t say this often enough: young classical musicians, both students and professionals, are often involved in outreach projects that reach school kids, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I think it’s more important to address one of the central problems classical music has these days, which is its lack of any large young audience.
Besides, the students themselves often feel there’s something odd about a world in which they play for people not at all like them. If they love classical music, why shouldn’t their friends outside the classical music world like it? Why shouldn’t they be able to reach large numbers of people very much like them, people they share our larger culture with?
But I also want to be cautious. This is a big project, that might or might not succeed. The key elements of include, on one hand, creating some excitement about the students’ performances (which in the past at Maryland has meant some changes in how concerts are presented. See, for instance here and here.)
But then a second key element is communicating the excitement to other students on the campus, who normally pay no attention to classical music. How, exactly, do you do that? And how do you then develop these people as an audience, so they actually start coming to concerts?
That’s the hard part. There are many ways to address the problem, and the students themselves, of course, are going to have fabulous ideas. I’ll say more in later posts about how we might begin.
But for the moment, at least, it’s important not to set expectations too high. As I told the students yesterday, if we all — with them playing the most important part — could reach 50 Maryland students who normally don’t come to the classical events on campus, and get them to come to a concert or two, that would be success enough. Especially if some of them are people who hadn’t paid attention to classical music at all.
I’m looking forward to working through the detail. Again, it’s an exciting prospect, whatever the outcome.