A trip, and the new media trap

I’ll be at the University of Missouri this week, on Thursday and Friday, for a festival called Music and New Media at the Crossroads. Among other things, i’ll be speaking on a public panel Thursday at 3 PM, about new media and the future of classical music, along with Matt Haimovitz, Tod Machover, my old friend Tim Page, and members of eighth blackbird, who, along with Matt, would count as newer friends. I’m looking forward to seeing all these people, along with the moderator, Robert Shay, dean of the U of Missouri school of music. Whom I know from years back, when he was dean at the Longy School of Music, and I gave a commencement address there.

But much as I like speaking in public, it’ll be a special pleasure to talk with smaller groups of students and faculty, which I’ll be doing twice on Thursday, and then again on Friday (joined by Tim at the Friday session). The topic will be, no surprise, the future of, though on Friday it has a more specific focus: “Re-Engaging 21st Century Audiences: Orchestras and Community-Building in the Social Media Era.”

If you’re a reader, and see me in Missouri, come up and say hello!

I hope I don’t surprise anyone too much with my view on the festival topic, which is that new media — whether it’s used in promotion, or in streaming concerts, or in doing something digital with the music itself — isn’t a key issue. Apologies to Tod, who of course is famous for his use of computers and digital wonders in his own music, if I seem to slight his work, which I don’t mean to do at all. Of course I think that new media, in all the forms I’ve named (and more), are  going to play a crucial role in classical music’s future, just as they do in all our current culture.

But that last phrase is key — “just as they do in all our current culture.” Because, as I’ve said here many times, the central issue for classical music is to reconnect with current culture, and build a new audience, which of course will be people who live in the culture outside classical music. Once we do that, new media won’t even be a topic for discussion, because we’ll be immersed in it, just as everybody else is.

Before we fully make this switch, though, new media can sometimes be a trap. You can, for instance, get active on Facebook and Twitter, post fabulous out of the box videos on YouTube, maybe showing (if you’re an orchestra) your music director and some of your musicians outside the concert hall, doing all kinds of unexpected, fun things.

While meanwhile you do the same old things at your concerts. So the new media face you put on doesn’t match what people find when they go to your performances, and so you’ve failed. You’ve set up expectations that the central things you do — your performances  — can’t meet, and you might find yourself driving your new audience away.

Or else you’ll  use Facebook and Twitter the wrong way, keeping (let’s say) your Facebook page tightly controlled,

I’ll be at the University of Missouri this week, on Thursday and Friday, for a festival called Music and New Media at the Crossroads. Among other things, i’ll be speaking on a public panel Thursday at 3 PM, about new media and the future of classical music, along with Matt Haimovitz, Tod Machover, my old friend Tim Page, and members of eighth blackbird, who, along with Matt, would count as newer friends. I’m looking forward to seeing all these people, along with the moderator, Robert Shay, dean of the U of Missouri school of music. Whom I know from years back, when he was dean at the Longy School of Music, and I gave a commencement address there.

But much as I like speaking in public, it’ll be a special pleasure to talk with smaller groups of students and faculty, which I’ll be doing twice on Thursday, and then again on Friday (joined by Tim at the Friday session). The topic will be, no surprise, the future of, though on Friday it has a more specific focus: “Re-Engaging 21st Century Audiences: Orchestras and Community-Building in the Social Media Era.”

I hope I don’t surprise anyone too much with my view on these things, which is that new media — whether it’s used in promotion, or in streaming concerts, or in doing something digital with the music itself — isn’t a key issue. Apologies to Tod, who of course is famous for his use of computers and digital wonders in his own music, if I seem to slight his work, which I don’t mean to do at all. Of course I think that new media, in all the forms I’ve named (and more), are  going to play a crucial role in classical music’s future, just as they do in all our current culture.

But that last phrase is key — “just as they do in all our current culture.” Because, as I’ve said here many times, the central issue for classical music is to reconnect with current culture, and build a new audience, which of course will be people who live in the culture outside classical music. Once we do that, new media won’t even be a topic for discussion, because we’ll be immersed in it, just as everybody else is.

Before we fully make this switch, though, new media can sometimes be a trap. You can, for instance, get active on Facebook and Twitter, post fabulous out of the box videos on YouTube, maybe showing (if you’re an orchestra) your music director and some of your musicians outside the concert hall, doing all kinds of unexpected, fun things.

While meanwhile you do the same old things at your concerts. So the new media face you put on doesn’t match what people find when they go to your performances, and so you’ve failed. You’ve set up expectations that the central things you do — your performances  — can’t meet, and you might find yourself driving your new audience away.

Or else you’ll  use Facebook and Twitter the wrong way, keeping (let’s say) your Facebook page tightly controlled, so it’s always on message, and excludes the interactivity — which means welcoming things people say that even contradict your message — that new media is all about, and thus is the key to making it work. You might also send tweets that say, “We’re playing Rachmaninoff tonight!” With the exclamation point feebly trying to light the fire that, again, ought to be lit by an exuberant back and forth flow between you and the people who follow you.

Though if you do get a lively back and forth flow going, now (again) you run the risk of people being disappointed when they come to your performances, and find they’re the same top-down events that we’ve been presenting for generations. Here’s the music we think you should hear, here (in the program notes) are the few things we’ll tell you about it (nothing about what it feels like to perform it, what this performance wants to convey, what the musicians involved think about). And here’s how you should dress, here’s when you should clap (and when you shouldn’t). Etc,

I know these things are changing, but if you do new media right, you’re entering a new culture which invites — no, compels — you to change the way you perform.

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