From Liza Figueroa Kravinsky: You scratch my back…

From time to time, Liza Figueroa Kravinsky has been guest-blogging here about how she’s developing her Go-Go Symphony, an ensemble that combines classical music with Go-Go, the iconic dance music of Washington, DC. 

One reason her group is unusual is that the crossover is rooted in the people involved. Instead of having, as I’ve sometimes seen, classical musicians playing in a pop style, pop musicians writing classical music, or shotgun marriages in which a pop artist guests with a classical group, without much true artistic interchange — instead of these things, Liza has classical musicians and genuine, from-the-street Go-Go drummers playing side by side, on an ongoing basis. 

And now, as Liza tells us, the group seems to be taking off. What especially interests me about that — apart, of course, from being happy for Liza and her collaborators — is that none of the recent growth happened in ways Liza, or I, if I’d been there, could have predicted.

I was involved, in fact, in the very early days of the group, when Liza hired me as a consultant, to help her strategize the very first baby steps. Together we came up with a plan that seemed reasonable at the time, but which envisaged much smaller beginnings than Liza now tells us about. 

Does that mean we were wrong? I think, from what Liza now tells me, that she and I both underestimated how much many people would love her group when they heard it. But it’s hard to predict things like that. Better to aim low, I might think, and plan small, practical steps, and then be surprised when things take off. Better that than to start off expecting big things, and then fall on your face when they don’t happen quickly. 

But above all, what Liza might teach us — and certainly what she’s taught me — is to take advantage of opportunities. That’s the story she’s telling here. Doors opened, and she went through them, always planning as well as she could to make the most of the new steps she was taking. And of course she herself found some of the doors. 

It’s a useful story to read, and I’ll turn it over to her. 

When I ended Part One of my Go-Go Symphony Marketing guest blog, I promised to explain my plan of how the Go-Go Symphony ensemble would take baby steps from playing in parks to playing in clubs to playing in festivals; and way down the road partnering with full symphony orchestras.

GoGo Symph PortraitWell, things haven’t turned out as I imagined.  Instead of playing in a park, we debuted at Washington DC’s National Mall on a large fully equipped stage as part of the July 4th week Freedom Fest festival.  This February, the Capital City Symphony will be partnering with us to perform the fully orchestrated version of the Go-Go Symphony at DC’s Atlas Theater, as part of the honored opening night of the Intersections Festival.  In between, we have been invited to play in a fancy country club, an art gallery, a major neighborhood festival,  a school, and regularly at a church.  In fact, my marketing plan right now is to keep up with all the performance requests.  It’s starting to feel a bit overwhelming, actually.

A little strategic thinking got things started. When we needed a bigger rehearsal space, I noticed The Church at Clarendon in my neighborhood had great facilities for such.  I also had a hunch churches are always trying to find ways to attract people to their facilities.   Turns out my instinct was correct.  At first, I offered to pay for the rehearsal space; but they told me that our performing for the community to attract people to the church would be more useful to them than rent money.   (Not a bad exchange at all!)  So far it has been a great partnership.  In fact, they were the ones who invited us to play at DC’s National Mall.

Our partnership with the church is part of a general strategy I call “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”  I listed various mutual back scratching arrangements on the backs of recycled business cards and moved them around like chess pieces.

Cards 7

We never ask people to support us; instead, we find mutually beneficial partnerships.  It starts with content.  DC music fans love to party to go-go music; we want to reach DC fans. Go-Go music has audiences but wants venues (long story); classical music has venues but wants audiences.  Music fans want to party to something different; we like to innovate. So we combine the classical and go-go genres.

Cards 1

More partnerships ideas: we want rehearsal and performance space; churches want to attract people to their facilities.  Events want attractions; we want to play. The media wants stories; we want publicity and have a great story about the merging of classical and go-go. Great press can be used by businesses, non-profits, and foundations who might want to partner with us. Orchestras want to reach out to more diverse audiences; go-go music wants recognition and respect. Dance schools and companies need music for performances; we want to play our music for them for further exposure. Audience members want to be famous in music videos; we can film dance competitions with our music for promotion.

Cards 2Cards 3Cards 4Cards 5

Cards 6

After constructing the right mosaic of partnerships, I had a plan that benefited everyone involved, as well as ourselves.  The first partnership I activated  — with the church  — moved us along at speeds greater than I had anticipated.

Photos also helped. When we were asked to perform at the National Mall, one of the first things I thought about was how cool the photos would look with the US Capitol at our back and the Washington Monument in front.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were unable to have a proper sound check; and as I understand from friends in the audience, the sound mix could have been better.  But we kept our eye on the ball when it came to the photo op. We dressed ourselves in cool black outfits (me in a gender bending tux); and I made sure to play my violin, even though we didn’t have time to mic it properly for the sound system.  The photographer I hired didn’t show up, but we were lucky that one of our musicians, Joshua Cruse, is an excellent photographer who was able to shoot and play at the same time.  Here are a few samples:

Go-Go Symphony 1Go-Go Symphony 2Go-Go Symphony 3Go-Go Symphony 4Go-Go Symphony 5


These action packed photos, which I posted on social media, excited many people and prompted one of my Facebook friends to invite us to play at an art gallery.  Another Facebook friend asked us to play for the Capital Speaker’s Club, which caters to women who tend to hire entertainment for fundraisers.  It also prompted others to come to our next show.  All this happened even though nobody had heard recordings of our performance yet. Images are key to marketing, and we are very conscious about that.

Despite the imperfect sound mix, we succeeded in attracting an audience.  My friend Carol wrote to me as a member of the audience: ”So, here’s what I observed — kids were sad to leave the concert when their parents pulled them away and kids dragged their parents from the museums to listen to the music. You quintupled (5X) the number of people from start to finish. People listened as they walked to from museums along the venue — i.e. they danced, bounced their heads, tapped/clapped their hands, or they danced/walked as it were.

“About the music, I most enjoyed your pieces…” (all pieces but one were my compositions),  “The ‘alright we’re going to try something new school’ sounded really interesting — sometimes Latin, Middle Eastern, then like a band – it was intriguing in a cool way – not weird, “this is NOT really music” way. Your music told a story – took us to some new places, got us excited and interested in Go-Go and symphony music. Your leading with the violin was super duper cool. Overall it was breathtaking…”

We just had a show last Sunday at a community festival; and the audience we attracted was at least as large as those the indie rock bands attracted.  People want something different, and we didn’t sound like any of the indie rock bands.  Two women expressed interest in our playing at their weddings; and one man told me he will be bringing his friends to our next show at the church.  Of course, we had plenty of postcards and business cards available for people like this.

I make sure to procure a recording and videotape all performances, since they can be used to promote the group and perhaps get grants and paid jobs.  Besides, in the long run, more people might be able to see these videos than are able to come to our live performances.   Again, the sound mix wasn’t great, but we could always overdub to the recording later on.  Live isn’t everything.

Another mutually beneficial partnership is with our musicians.  Musicians want to play to audiences; we need promotion. One rabid go-go fan, Theodore Priscilla, met me on Facebook and asked me if he could play tambourine for us.  He had never played in a band or orchestra before; but he had good natural rhythm, so I accepted his offer. When we welcomed him to our secret musicians facebook page, he sent us an emoticon crying for joy with tears streaming down its face. He told us he had been harboring this fantasy of playing in a band or orchestra; and now in his fifties, it had come true. He is so excited about playing with us, he has become our official go-go community outreach person. He knows where to distribute flyers to reach the go-go community and works hard at promoting us on Twitter and Facebook. And the audience loves his enthusiasm on stage.

One of our tenor sax players, Raycheal Proctor, works as a social media marketing specialist and has given me great strategies for online promotion. That, coupled with some great advice from website consultant friend Lillian McMath, will help boost our visibility on google searches.

Our next move will be to keep building up our audience and reputation and leverage that to get paid more money. I will be writing about more of that in my next blog if things work out in that respect.  Wish us luck!

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  1. richard says

    “The ‘alright we’re going to try something new school’ sounded really interesting — sometimes Latin, Middle Eastern, then like a band – it was intriguing in a cool way – not weird, “this is NOT really music” way.

    I’d like to hear you’re Go Go Symphony, do you have samples that can be streamed? From the quote above I got the impression that the music isn’t modernist. In what way is it “classical”. My own “classical” works aren’t a whole lot different than my jazz charts, except that the jazz charts are a little less “polyphonic” and players can solo.

  2. says

    That video features the “new school” piece, based on the newer go-go beat “bounce beat”. The classic go-go beat swings like a human beat box (which is based on the classic old school go-go beat). All our other pieces are based on the older classic go-go beat. That’s my favorite. We’ll have video of that soon. Sorry – still trying to catch up with everything coming at us. :)

  3. says

    I’d say our music is dissonant with a bit of jazz, pop, funk, whatever mixed in, with plenty of room for improv. Yes, I wouldn’t call it “modernist”. Audience members tend to call it “film score” music over a go-go beat. That makes sense to me.

  4. Christine says

    I’d like to know about the financial part? How do you determine fees? Do the musicians get paid? Does money go back into the ‘business?’

  5. says

    All this is voluntary right now – nobody is getting paid. We are hoping to build enough of an audience to convince agencies, clubs, schools etc. that we are worth paying for. We also need more of a reputation before we charge audiences for our performances. You can consider us as part of the volunteers who spread classical music via “Classical Revolution,” only our music is original. I’m not sure how much we would expect to get paid in the future. I have to think about that one. It depends on how much demand there is for us. Good question. Stay tuned for further thoughts on that.

  6. says

    We just got paid for our last performance for the first time last Saturday night. More than we had agreed to accept. The event organizer must have been very pleased with us. We had to do an encore!