Launching my year

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.

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  1. says

    Hey Greg–

    This post inspired two of my own–one on what’s worked for my first-year seminar students in the past, and one on thoughts that occurred to me while at the DePauw football game this afternoon.

    For example, what would it take to get a whole sports team to a concert? That would attract some attention. And what kind of musicking event (a term I’m finding more attractive than “concert,” since “concert” to me, anyway, has all the connotations of a traditional concert’s counterproductive aspects) would be engaging for, say, a football team? What kind of deal could the members of an orchestra make with the guys on a football team to exchange attendance?

    What really hit me at the football game is that at colleges and universities, the music ensembles often are not perceived as making genuine contributions to the intellectual, creative, and social life of the school community. Official concerts are, quite often, not much more than public class presentations, held in out-of-the way, often hard-to-find locations.

    You write often that classical music as a whole has lost touch with contemporary society. Nowhere is this more obvious than college and university campuses.

    We need to be encouraging creativity and experimentation. And there’s no better place than college and university campuses, where events do not have to make money, and the students, who don’t have to be paid, can be free to experiment.

    Really looking forward to reading about what you facilitate in Maryland.

  2. Greg Sandow says

    A comment was accidentally deleted. I’m restoring it this way.


    I think that it’s great that you’re encouraging college music students to do “outreach” to their fellow students. I’ve often thought that one of the best things to do would be to just give away free classical CD’s to college kids. This is a time when people are exploring many new things, music included. Maybe a set of CD’s grouped according to mood

    – relaxing, exciting, consoling, music to have sex to, to study to, maybe some longer forms…… No lectures, people could listen when/where/to what they wanted. That would be great, and could very well spark further interest.

    I’m a pianist. I would be very interested in knowing what percentage

    of concert-goers know really what “sonata” means. And then ask the performers what they think the results of such a poll would be (see how out of touch – or not – with the public they are). A little bit of knowledge or familiarity can go a long way, I think. One of the musician’s jobs (the main one?) is to present the music in a clear,

    understandable manner: the melody must be clearly heard; the emotional

    content of the music must be done justice; etc. Since, in art, familiarity seems to breed contentment and not contempt, I almost always explain what “sonata” means when I play one, or give little previews of the structure or themes or other features of the music that might help someone better enjoy it. (Perhaps my most proud moment came in the pre-concert talk before I played the virtually unknown Korngold Concerto in Stuttgart last year. I had several hundred, mostly gray-haired people, singing the opening and main theme. That was fun, and I’m pretty sure that that must have helped them in understanding the music.) In any case, that’s my current method to try to make classical music better understood. I believe in the continued relevance of Bach, Chopin, etc. to our lives.

    I could go on forever, and it’s late…..

    — David Saliamonas