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June 20, 2007

Can't Stop, Won't Stop

by Molly Sheridan

Doug probably nailed it when he said I had a nonchalant anticipation of the coming changes. Maybe that can be attributed to the fact that my own experience in the performing art world has evolved very fluidly alongside rapid technological changes--at least as much as one can witness in a decade. Creating multimedia web content that supports these art forms is exciting specifically because it keeps changing so quickly--just like the young people Vanessa writes about, I'm creating alongside the artists I admire.

But what can this mean to an audience that is not, by and large, made up of heavy new technology users? Just because we have gotten comfortable as an industry operating behind the curve, I don't think that's a great reason to stay there. New technology is very exciting in the context of this discussion not because it changes the art itself in any fundamental way, but because the one piece we all seem to be struggling with is how to deepen the experience of going to the hall and witnessing a production without treating our artists like dress up toys or our guests like they are idiots. The technology makes creating such related products relatively easy and inexpensive. You don't need the budget of Dreamworks to participate; you don't even need the budget of the Cleveland Orchestra. You can create websites, blogs, podcasts, movies, radio broadcasts--all with just a few thousand dollars worth of equipment and an internet connection--and share that information among your colleagues and your fans who can then turn around and share it with theirs. Audiences can pick and choose what information they want and how they want it, and they can respond by creating their own content and posting their own reviews. We can adapt now and use the opportunity to motivate a big push or just add it to the list of things we mean to catch up with later.

We may be a niche, but at this moment there are still quite a few orchestras in this country and a lot of money behind them. Let's not miss the opportunities we have right now, only to look back a decade down the road and wish we hadn't been so passive. Set a goal to deepen the relationship you have with your audiences and meet it. Get outside help and inside help as you need it to foster fresh thinking, but this is not a "consultant" issue, it's a very personal one. I say it's time we get loose and start using the tools we have and some great new ones we can afford to learn. Don't lock away the music you love and the passion you use to create it. It's too important.

Posted by msheridan at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

Courage, Risk, and Reward

by Laura Jackson

This discussion has been great for me. I have found it threatening at times and at others, tremendously inspiring. Enormous thanks to everyone for so many thoughtful and sincere ideas and comments.

Overall, I am struck by the responsibility we face as music lovers, performers, and thinkers in this day and age. Change is happening in every facet of our lives and the realm of classical music is just one of these areas of mutation, disorientation, and dynamism. As we search for and experiment with new ways of adapting an ever changing technology with our experience of classical music - one steeped in and energized by tradition and history, I think we should keep a few things in mind.

Take risks and have the courage to try new things. Even if they seem ridiculous to some of us or scandalously irreverent, we can only learn from trying. More importantly, we need to allow others in the field to do the same without an instantaneous negative judgment that shuts off opportunity. I admit that I will need to remind myself of this more often than most; more than once, I found myself cringing while reading the suggestions bloggers put forth for changes in the listening experience.

Trying new things also means giving them a chance to thrive with the full support of our institutions, from marketing to artistic, education to development. We must commit whole-heartedly and go for it. If a new idea is not an instant hit, we shouldn't automatically discard it either. Some of our confusion about the success of something may come from doing without the nurturing process of evaluation and improvement. Rather than just trying another experiment if instant success is not ours, we must learn from our attempts and try to refine our experiments to reach success.

We need traditional live performance, today more than ever. We need to preserve the living experience of music, live music, in quiet places because it offers a meaningful opportunity for reflection, the chance to cultivate the practice of actively listening to each other, and an awareness of those around us. We learn from that; it's special. It draws out some of our best as human beings.

Developing a rich, vibrant listening life is a multidimensional task, one that combines varied modes of engagement with sound and with each other. I am in favor of offering new ways to listen to music, in addition to the traditional experience, that expand our ears and minds. Should we experiment, as Robert Levine suggests, with the listening culture of the 18th century where people are up moving around and talking, commenting on what they hear? Probably, but while we are making concerts into a cocktail, music-as-background experience, can we also consider ways of enhancing and encouraging focused listening as well? What if listeners could sit in a concert hall hearing an acoustical performance and at the same time, move around virtually with a screen on the back of the seat in front of them? They could sit in the violin section one moment and with the timpanist the next. What if they could draw pictures of what they hear while the music is sounding and see the images created by their seatmates at intermission?

Lets increase the interactive and community-building experiences surrounding arts events: On-line chats, social receptions with peer groups, educational talks, opportunities to discuss reactions and ask questions of performers....Perhaps a concertgoer can connect to Mahler's life and personality by taking a virtual tour through his home before hearing a performance of his third symphony. How about a simulated exploration of the caves off the coast of Scotland that inspired the writing of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture in the lobby? Those of us who love the arts enough to dedicate our lives to them need to think hard about what we value from the experience, what deepened our relationship to music, and find ways to share these pathways to enrichment through music.

Education: Our most crucial mission needs to be in the education of our youth - not just to pump up some grant proposal for our own needs, but to galvanize local support into active efforts to reinstitute music curriculums back into school. Our future relationships with listeners depend on those we forge now. We also need to continue searching for the most effective means of educating adults, whether using short concerts that offer in-depth discussion and aural examples of a single piece or something else entirely. Culture satisfies a love of learning and this love can and should be a lifelong engagement.

Reflection & Fears: Can we agree to organize forums in which we have open, cordial, honest, and truly cooperative discussions about our experiments? Our blog is one positive example, certainly, but I hope it is only the beginning. There is no question in my mind that our efforts need to relate to the needs, desires, and personalities of our communities. What works in one will not work the same way in any another. However, I am sure there are ways we can benefit from each other's experience and that we will grow far more quickly by sharing honestly about our failures as well as our successes.

A final note of caution that concerns me: As we attempt to revitalize the presentation of classical music to capture the ears, eyes, and interests of modern listeners, it is fine and even necessary to make our presentations more entertaining. We should not, however, go so far as to treat performing arts as only entertainment. Art must remain a means of pulling us outside of our comfort zones and providing a mirror to make commentary about the full range of human experience visible, even if it reflects our fear and pain as well as beauty, excitement, and pure joy.

Posted by ljackson at 9:56 PM | Comments (0)

So what's next?

by Moy Eng

Foundations have historically seeded new ideas, especially in the sciences and arts. For example, The Rockefeller Foundation's Green Revolution, The Aaron Diamond Foundation's sole focus on developing an AIDS cure and Mellon Foundation's current initiative with symphonies. Amidst a time of change and intriguing challenges, perhaps my colleagues and I need to look at what we can do individually and collectively to fuel provocative ideas as well invest in those ideas that improve the conditions (modest and systemic) in which more people engage in the arts such as pimpin' up the visual element of classical music concerts (Lynne Connor's Armani wardrobe suggestions) and increasing the user friendliness of Houston's River Oaks Chamber Orchestra concert format making the experience more fun, open and genuinely interesting. Investing in new/provocative ideas will require a somewhat different perspective and skill set: openness, taste for risk, skills to assess new ideas and the possibility for success, and understanding that many ideas may fail.

For the past twenty some years, the paradigm on growth and until recently, sustainability in the nonprofit arts sector has required a slightly different set of skills in foundation staff. Some are thinking about how to grapple with the changed environment such as Rockefeller, Wallace and Duke. I hope that this conversation may stimulate a much larger dialogue and action by individual and institutional donors focused on fostering increased opportunities for cultural engagement toward, as Stephen Tepper eloquently wrote, a culturally vital citizenry. I know that I am looking forward to it.

Posted by meng at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

How much involvement?

by Greg Sandow

In all our talk about audience involvement, I wonder just how far we think that should go.

Here are two examples. One is Mozart's famous letter about the premiere of his Paris Symphony:

...in the midst of the first allegro came a passage I had known would please. The audience was quite carried away -- there was a great outburst of applause. But, since I knew when I wrote it that it would make a sensation, I had brought it in again in the last -- and then it came again, da capo! The andante also found favor, but particularly the last allegro because, having noticed that all last allegri here opened, like the first, with all instruments together and usually in unison, I began with two violins only, piano for eight bars only, then forte, so that at the piano (as I had expected) the audience said "Sh!" and when they heard the forte began at once to clap their hands. I was so happy that I went straight to the Palais Royale after the symphony, ate an ice, said the rosary I had vowed -- and went home -- for I always am and always will be happiest there, or else with some good honest German, who, if a bachelor, lives alone like a good Christian or, if married, loves his wife and brings up his children well!

(Mozart -- 22 years old, and away from home alone for the first time -- wrote this letter to his father. We can be sure that those last words mean, in effect, "No, dad, I didn't go out and run around with women.")

The second example is a gospel song, sung by Aretha Franklin in her father's church when she was 16. Click on the link, and it'll stream from my website. The congregation (of course in the usual style of the African-American church) is with her all the way, responding, crying out, commenting. (And by the way -- Aretha sang like this when she was 16? Breathtaking. Could she do it when she was 14? Was she born knowing how to do it?)


And so here's a question. Would we want the audience at our own classical concerts to be involved like this? Forget Aretha for the moment. Would we even want what Mozart describes in his letter?

Somehow, the answer we often seem to jump to is "no." It just doesn't feel right.

But I can think of a very simple reason to say yes: This is what Mozart wanted. We talk a lot, in classical music, about being faithful to the intentions of the great composers. Well, here are Mozart's. He wanted the audience to jump in and applaud. He set that up -- he wrote the piece to make it happen. In a very basic sense, it's what the piece is for. (Well, one of the things it's for.) And yes, he did this in an environment when almost every piece that anybody heard was new, and he also planned his provocations for this particular audience. But still -- how can we think we're doing what he wanted (or how can we think we're giving an authentic performance), if we don't allow one of the things he wanted most?

In return, I'll very likely hear two things. First, that we've evolved away from this, which certainly is true. And second, that audience participation will damage the concentration we've learned to have (well, a few of us have) on the underlying structure of a piece. Or on its subtle details.

The second objection raises a simple but very basic question: How do we know what the effect of audience reaction would be? Have we ever tried it? For what it's worth, I have. When I hosted and helped to plan the Symphony with a Splash series with the Pittsburgh Symphony, we played the first movement of the Paris Symphony. I read the audience Mozart's letter, and told them that, since nobody knows which passage he wanted the crowd to applaud, they themselves would have to make the choice. They should consider themselves free to applaud whenever they heard something they liked.

And so they did. They applauded a lot. And what was quickly clear to me was that the piece was designed for this. Mozart anticipated it. The music is full of contrasts, as Mozart, a master entertainer, keeps giving his audience something new to listen to. With the audience applauding, the contrasts stand out, because, first, the audience applauded each passage differently, and, second, the musicians react to the audience, and start playing with a different kind of consciousness. The difference in the various kinds of applause was very striking. At the moment where the recapitulation diverges from the exposition (sorry, those who aren't music professionals, for the technical talk), there was an especially lusty burst of applause. There's no way that many people in this audience knew what sonata form is, but they clearly heard that something new was happening.

Besides, form in classical music tends either to depend on contrasts (the minuet or scherzo movements in Mozart or Beethoven symphonies), or else creates a narrative. I can't see how applause during the music would hurt either of these things. Take the sudden, magical sound of the horns in the trio of the minuet movement in Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. Would a ripple of awed applause take anything away from that? Or suppose people applauded at the trumpet call in the Lenore No. 3 Overture. Would that kill the piece? Suppose the audience broke into cheers at the sunburst beginning of the last movement of Beethoven's Fifth. What harm would that do?

Or even if people applauded, more subtly, at the moment in the first movement of the Eroica Symphony, when the recapitulation unexpectedly goes its own way, almost as soon as it began. How would that hurt our listening? An attentive audience wouldn't drown out the music with applause at that point. But underlining how special this moment is, with a sign of appreciation, would very likely only make it more special. Obviously there are some moments -- many moments -- when you wouldn't want applause, and some styles of music where applause during the music would be clearly inappropriate. But an attentive audience will recognize these. And the musicians, with their body language, can communicate whether they think applause is appropriate or not.

As for the way we've evolved, I take Matthew Guerreri's point (in a comment to one of these posts) that we now accept a 19th century sense of what art means, and how it ought to be received. But I'd add a nuance. We used to accept that. Now, in a global cultural context, I'm not so sure. Someone can come to a classical concert with a background that includes gospel music (listen to the Aretha song), kabuki (where people in the audience react with short, tight cries to high points in a performance), and jazz (where it's routine to applaud a solo). Not to mention rock. Bruce Springsteen, in a spoken introduction to his song "Growing Up," says he couldn't accept what his parents wanted him to be. "I didn't want to be a doctor. I didn't want to be a lawyer. I wanted everything!" Voice from the crowd: "You got it, Bruce!" (On the three-CD live album released at the height of his pop-chart fame.)

So if people with all this inside them come into the classical concert hall, why wouldn't the classical concert hall change? We've seen so many ways in which musical practices blend and combine, in our era (not least of them the way the postwar classical avant-garde has influenced current electronic dance music). Why should classical music be exempt?

Besides, the very evolution of classical music implies that it could evolve again. The ban on applauding between movements of a piece is, in America, no more than 50 years old. Now the wheel is turning again, and applause between movements is starting to break out. (At least in New York.) Younger people whoop when they like a performance, instead of simply applauding or shouting "bravo." Dress codes are changing, certainly for the audience, but often for performers as well. So this evolution toward silent listening, a movement only 200 years old, and one that was resisted strongly as it took hold -- why can't this be reversed? Especially since we know that a large part of the classical repertoire was designed for a participatory environment.

Not that this has to change. We can easily have some concerts done in the 19th century style, and others in a new manner, drawing on both the 18th and the 21st centuries. And who knows? Maybe the people who now say they'd hate that would actually like it, if they saw it. We just don't know. But at the rate our culture has been changing, I think it's rash to rule anything out.

Posted by gsandow at 8:46 PM | Comments (6)

Facing the Music

by Vanessa Bertozzi

I'm so glad to have been invited to participate in this blogging. I've learned a lot and I'm looking forward to the session tomorrow in Nashville.

I'm reflecting on one of the young people Henry and I profiled in our chapter: Ed, whose band Grizzly Bear has now taken off to the point that they have had sellout tours and been featured in Rolling Stone. When I first met Ed a short time ago, he'd been making music alone in his bedroom, singing into his computer and sampling percussion noises from clanking everyday objects against his desk. His work is one of millions of user generated content circulating on web. Many don't go so far up the stream to a record deal, radio play, magazine covers, and sold out shows. Darling of alternative rock, Beck came to engage with participatory media the perspective of already being famous. Beck released his album Guerolito, with the intension of his fans remixing it for the follow-up remix album. Both artists have live performances, both have made recordings and used distribution methods that invite the participation of others online and off. In this way, pop music (alternative now being a subcategory of pop) is both bottom up and top down. And so pop music is addressing the changes in expectations of how people interact with art and music. And they expect to be able to have hands on manipulation, dress up in it and build things with it. And ultimately, they make meaning from those experiences. It all seems like a good fit for pop music.

There are many challenges facing classical music professionals.
In these concluding remarks, we usually hear people leaving us with rousing questions of "Why is this important?" I think we all know why this discussion about the future of the symphony orchestra is important. What we need to figure out is how to make it happen, the dirty work of planning and implementing and negotiating not just a little bit of politics.

Posted by vbertozzi at 5:51 PM | Comments (0)

FInal thoughts

by Robert Levine

It's not very satisfying to end my postings here with a cry or three of frustration, but honesty has a satisfaction all its own.

My first frustration is my continuing lack of understanding of why audiences come to concerts. I suspect this is a problem that hampers a number of participants in the orchestra business who are responsible for... getting people to come to concerts. That's not a criticism; simply an observation that those attracted to work in the industry generally have a connection with the art form that is atypically deep and which does not fully equip them to understand those whose connection is less so.

My second head-against-wall issue is that of musician "involvement" in performances. Something Greg wrote encapsulates it perfectly.

... The field is endangered. You're playing great art, which you're committed to. And there's an audience out there! In what other kind of performance do people routinely not do their best, and then blame someone else for it? (In this case, the conductors.)

The mystery at the heart of orchestral performance is the interaction between conductor and orchestra. I've been doing this for a long time and I still don't really understand it.

But I know this much. Orchestras are ensembles, composed of able and committed musicians who are trained from a very early age to play together, play in tune, and make a beautiful sound. By the time one wins a place in a professional orchestra, these things are as reflexive as breathing.

But orchestras are also instruments, and like instruments, they don't play themselves. When a Strad is played out of tune, it's not the Strad's fault. It didn't much matter what kind of violin Heifetz played, except perhaps to Heifetz. It's impossible for an orchestra to play at its best for a bad conductor. It's just impossible. And it's almost as hard not to play well for a really good conductor. It's not about musicians "not doing their best." That's a concept that needs to be purged from this discussion if it is to include musicians - and it needs to include musicians.

I get as frustrated when I see people blaming orchestras for bad conductors as I do when I see my colleagues not understanding that enjoying one's job is both something that not only requires thought and effort on their part, but is actually part of doing one's job in this business.

My final frustration is exemplified by something that Ed Cambron wrote:

I will never forget a speech I heard several years ago given by Gary Graffman at Curtis. He basically said that the problem with orchestras started in the 60s when they became big businesses, adding development, marketing, and other functions, thus creating a need for more and more audiences and support which weren't naturally present in the community. I've always been bothered by what he said, because in my opinion these developments were a response to growing orchestra musician contract costs requiring 52 weeks of employment, expanded benefits, etc. We became supply driven and fundraising bailed us out.

A more succinct way of stating this would be that the problems with orchestras started when musicians were able to effectively demand that they be paid a living wage. But even that's not true. Orchestras have never been for-profit enterprises. They have always, and everywhere, needed and received external support; be it from royalty, the nobility, the government, foundations, rich people, lotteries, or their own musicians.

The need for external support is not, in software terms, a bug; it's a feature. And it's not a new feature. The real questions we need to answer are whether or not our industry deserves that support and if it will continue to do so.

Posted by rlevine at 3:34 PM | Comments (0)

A paradigm shift?

by Steven J. Tepper

I have enjoyed enormously the depth of the conversation that has taken place on these pages over the last week. Engaging Art will clearly cause some ripples, as it should. It is hard to have the words "The Next Great Transformation" in the title of the book without being ready for people to tell us why things haven't changed as much as we think, or to tell us that the real changes are not what we think they are.

But, I think we can all agree that the conversation is changing... and that is an important first step. We are, at least, debating what it means to engage audiences, rather than talking about "building participation" -- which has been the paradigm that has driven policy for the last 20 years. This change -- which focuses on unleashing the creative capacity of citizens -- will put the arts community squarely in line with the types of "public interest" arguments advanced in other sectors. In this country, we don't talk about the health of hospitals without first talking about the health of patients; we care about hospitals only because they help create healthy citizens. And so it should be with the arts, the cultural health and vitality of citizens should come first. This doesn't mean that excellence, artistic innovation, and other goals should be devalued or put aside. It simply means that, for many organizations (although not for all), these goals must serve and advance citizen vitality. Perhaps the next step in the conversation is to come to some consensus about what vitality means, what would be indicators of success and how organizations -- both individually and collectively -- can help advance this notion?

Posted by stepper at 3:04 PM | Comments (1)

Factoring in the audience

by Greg Sandow

Ed, in his wonderfully wistful post, wonders what would have happened if orchestras had paid attention to their audience, back decades ago when they evolved their present funding, marketing, and administrative ways.

One reason they didn't do this, I suspect, is that they didn't have to. The Big Five, in those days, were selling 100% of their tickets! When that's happening, I can understand if you think your audience relationship is just fine, thank you.

I got this information from the private memo that management consultants from McKinsey wrote to the managements of the Big Five, after the company had been hired to study the serious financial crisis caused (in large part, anyway) by the 1960s expansion to the 52-week season, and the raise in musicians' pay. The 100% ticket sales were such an established fact that the writers of the memo simply took it for granted. When they wanted to calculate the annual revenue from ticket sales, they simply took the capacities of the halls, and multiplied by the number of concerts and the average ticket price.

Those wonderful, lost, unattainable years...another demonstration of how much things have changed.

(Though what if orchestras had looked at the world around them, at --in two words -- the Sixties, and wondered why they weren't reflecting the Summer of Love, or the civil rights movement? The Whitney Museum in New York currently features a show about the graphics of Summer of Love. But if any orchestra wanted to mount a festival of orchestral music that reflected the sound of the Summer of Love, this would have to be silent, because I don't think any such music exists.)

(Should we believe that Metropolitan Opera looked across the river to Brooklyn in 1947, when the Dodgers fielded the first black player in major league baseball? After all, the Met did finally put a black singer on stage -- eight years later...)

Posted by gsandow at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

New orchestras

by Greg Sandow

I loved what Robert and Ed had to say about new orchestral stuff -- the need for a new orchestral culture, and how much fun it would be to have an entirely new kind of orchestra.

There are models, tentative ones, anyway, for a new kind of orchestra. Once there was a group called the Wild Ginger Phlharmonic, which if I remember correctly had east and west coast branches. I got to know the east coast branch. The orchestra was made up of music students, who'd gather for a week before each concert, off in a rural area, and do nothing but rehearse. Then they'd play in New York, with wonderful verve and joy. Their conductor seemed largely to serve as a referee, and you could see moments in their concerts when one of the players -- maybe one of the rear-stand cellists -- would get an idea about how some passage should go, and then the whole orchestra would take fire from him.

There were downsides. They built the transition to the finale of Beethoven's Fifth with edge of the seat excitement, then exploded so loudly when the finale began that there was nowhere else to go for the rest of the movement. And they fell apart, administratively, for lack of professional management skill.

Then there's Red, An Orchestra, in Cleveland, which draws over 1000 younger people to each of its concerts. Recently it played in Second Life. I've never been to its concerts, though I've talked to some of the people who run it. Red seems to succeed on programming, and most of all on branding itself, so to speak, as an exciting shared experience. People who identify with it wear red to its concerts.

I'm also told that the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston does things in a new way. I'm friendly with the person who started it and runs it, Alecia Lawyer, an oboist. She e-mailed me in response to this blog, and I'll quote some of what she said:

I have been reading the highlights from the blog. I really feel like ROCO has addressed all of these concerns.  Our mission is the connection of people.  We HAVE changed the experience in the middle and we do get the audiences and the funding from a wide variety of sources.  I think this was a success from the beginning because I have been involved  in Houston non-musically for so long, developing relationships through volunteer work and just frankly thoroughly living in Houston with no intention of leaving it. 

Here is what our latest conductor put on his blog:

It took me a while, but I want to tell you about my concert last week in Houston with the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. It was founded by oboist/executive director/mom Alecia Lawyer. Besides being an excellent ensemble, and programming daring, adventurous music, "ROCO" has drastically changed the classical concert format. Here's the run-down:

5pm concerts, 90 minute concert duration, free child care/music education during concert, 5 minute intermission, surprise pieces at the beginning and end of the concert.

Also, if you fill out a card, you are eligible to be one of four people who gets to sit in the orchestra for one piece after the break. (It's a great way to get info about your audience).

And ... during the five minute intermission, the ENTIRE ORCHESTRA mingles with the audience.

Finally, the older kids in child care get to come hear part of the program right after the break, and are always acknowledged by the conductor and audience. It's great to hear them cheer from the balcony.

They've done it -- they've taken a classical concert and made it into a friendly, fun, social event without compromising the music. Thus proving what I've always thought -- it's not the music or the programming that need help in the orchestra world, it's the EXPERIENCE.

Edwin Outwater

I know (this is Greg again) that there are other examples.


And about new orchestra culture. A few years ago, Bruce Coppock and I led a discussion at a retreat attended by people from many orchestras about why orchestras don't play better -- and with more visible involvement. Bruce, for those who don't know, is the executive director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and has done wonders (along with their board chair, Lowell Noteboom, and many of the musicians) to make the SPCO one of the best-run orchestras in this country.

Bruce and I agreed on our premise, that orchestras need to engage their audiences much more fully -- with their playing. The people in the discussion were mostly musicians, from a variety of large and medium orchestras, and at first some of them resisted what we said. It was the conductors' fault, they said, if they weren't fully involved.

Eventually, though, Bruce and I seemed to convince everyone. The field is endangered. You're playing great art, which you're committed to. And there's an audience out there! In what other kind of performance do people routinely not do their best, and then blame someone else for it? (In this case, the conductors.) The larger gathering in which this took place required reports from all the discussions that individuals organized. Normally, just one person reports for the group. In our case, to emphasize how important we thought our conclusions were, everyone involved got up, and stood behind Bruce as he made the report.

In a later gathering of the same sort, I sat in on a musicians-only discussion of why orchestra musicians don't look more involved when they played. All the musicians present, again from a variety of large and medium-sized orchestras, agreed that musicians ought to look more involved. But how to make that happen? Orchestra managements couldn't suggest it. That would be the kiss of death. The musicians would refuse to go along.

Boards of directors couldn't suggest it. The musicians would cite contract provisions, saying that boards have no voice in such things.

So the leadership would have to come from the musicians. Who really aren't organized to take such initiatives. So, as Robert says, we're going to need a big change in orchestra culture. I'm sure this will come as a younger generation takes over, both among the players, and in the managements and boards.


Orchestra dress has been mentioned in this blog, and of course that's got to change. It's astonishing, in fact, that it hasn't, especially since we now routinely see soloists and conductors who avoid standard concert dress.

There are two reasons, I'd guess, why orchestras mostly haven't changed:

First, there's a solid minority of musicians (not to mention conductors and, not least, members of the audience) who like the formal dress. The late Hans Vonk, when he was music director in St. Louis, told me how much he loved putting on his tails. It helped him prepare for performances, he said. He felt like an actor getting into a costume. I have to respect that, and would never have asked him to change.

Second, to change how orchestras dress would mean that someone would have to decide what the new way of dressing would be. That could lead to ghastly fights between musicians and management. I can imagine it's easier just to avoid the question.

And yet...the formal dress really has to do. I'd suggest, as an interim measure, that some concerts be given with formal dress and some without.

Posted by gsandow at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

No Crutches

by Ed Cambron

When did classical music audiences get removed from the equation? Did it happen in the 1960s when foundations started supporting growth and Greg's Bob Dylan phenomenon occurred? Were orchestras growing for the wrong reasons?

I will never forget a speech I heard several years ago given by Gary Graffman at Curtis. He basically said that the problem with orchestras started in the 60s when they became big businesses, adding development, marketing, and other functions, thus creating a need for more and more audiences and support which weren't naturally present in the community. I've always been bothered by what he said, because in my opinion these developments were a response to growing orchestra musician contract costs requiring 52 weeks of employment, expanded benefits, etc. We became supply driven and fundraising bailed us out.

Our response was to try to bring more people to what we do, without really changing anything. What if we had addressed the challenges back then differently? What if we had factored in the audience then, as I think we are trying to do now?

With these thoughts in mind, maybe we should let Moy Eng of the hook and remove the funding crutch from our experimental orchestra. Maybe the pace of change would be far faster, the commitment more intense, and the results more meaningful.

Posted by ecambron at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

Worlds, real and otherwise

by Greg Sandow

To clarify, if necessary, what I meant by the "real world":

I'm not talking about which subculture, or collection of subcultures, is intrinsically more valid (whatever that would mean). I'm talking about the evident fact that there's a culture shared by the majority of young, educated people in which the canonical arts (and especially classical music) play very little part. "Young," in this context, might mean everybody under 50.

One quick demonstration of why this fact is evident: many, many conversations with young classical musicians, either in my work with orchestras or my 10 years of teaching at Juilliard. Young classical musicians routinely say that their friends -- with whom they otherwise share a culture -- have no interest in classical music, don't go to classical concerts, and therefore don't understand what the young musicians do.

In what sense do these young musicians share a culture with their friends? A vignette: Last year, I'm teaching my Juilliard graduate course about the future of classical music. One student comes early to class, and sits there intent on his iPod. This student, in previous weeks, had argued forcefully that classical music is better than pop (more complex, more involving), something he'd done, I want to stress, with my encouragement. In fact, I'd asked him to develop his view in class at whatever length he chose.

When he took off his headphones, I asked him what he'd been listening to. "Sufjan Stevens," he said. Stevens is a singer-songwriter who's embarked on a long project, to record albums about each of the states. Complex, subtle music and lyrics, exactly the kind of thing that never gets near the pop charts, appeals to educated younger people, and in some ways is more like new classical music than any mass-appeal pop. I said I had Stevens' Illinois album on my own iPod, and Nick started talking with great enthusiasm about the differences between this and Stevens' other work.

Sufjan Stevens is part of a culture this student shares with his friends outside classical music. He also obviously has a classical music culture, which he's passionate about. I'm sure he'd trade Stevens for Mahler, if he had to make the choice. But he can't talk to his friends about classical music.


A historical example. If you study classical music history, one of the high points in the early 1960s is going to be Boulez's work in Paris. This will be taught with lots of emphasis on the structure of Boulez's music, with reference to serialism and the reasons Boulez and others moved beyond it. Nothing will be said, in any exposition of this that I've ever seen or heard of, about who listened to this music -- who Boulez's audience was, and what kind of culture they represented.

It took Philip Glass, in an interview I once read, to state the obvious. Boulez had no audience to speak of, Glass said. He'd lived in Paris at the time, and the art that smart younger people cared about was film -- Godard, for instance. Godard, of course, was quite an avant-garde artist back then, which didn't stop his films from having a sizeable art-house audience, both in France and the US. What Philip said made immediate sense to me, because his experience was my own. I was in college in the early '60s, and Boulez even spent a semester in residence at the university I went to. But he drew little attention from most of the advanced artistic and intellectual people at the school. Whereas the art films of the era -- Antonioni, Godard, Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini -- they drew reasonable crowds. This was the stuff people talked about. Boulez, comparatively, was off in a corner.

Which doesn't mean Boulez was inferior! Just that he didn't play much part in the larger developments in the advanced culture of his early years. He did cultivate a following among wealthy patrons of the arts. And, of course, he became a central figure in the mainstream classical world, which of course didn't hurt his clout as a composer. But certainly -- if you look at the explosion of French thought and culture in the late '50s and early '60s, leading up, perhaps, to the student and worker revolt of 1968 -- Boulez played no large part in that, outside the classical music world. (One irony, to me, is that Boulez has often said that a new musical language -- his, for instance -- was necessary in order to express the new emotions of a new era. But what were those emotions? I don't think he's ever explained that, and I doubt that even experts on his music could say what these are, or how his music expresses them. Godard, on the other hand, made films in which his characters deal explicitly with the new emotions, morality, philosophy, and politics of those years -- and he did that by using a new film language, which on one hand throws the discussion of these things right in the face of his audience, and on the other keeps the discussion open-ended and subtle.)


When I talked about the "real world" now, I might mean a world of people who, like me, watched The Sopranos faithfully on TV, were deeply moved by Bob Dylan's 2006 album Modern Times, get deeply absorbed by any new Almodovar film, and could have been hooked in 30 seconds if they'd been driving late at night and by chance tuned in (as I did) to a live Bjork concert, broadcast on New York's public radio station.

I'm in that world. I can talk about some or all these things with most of the people I meet. But I can't as easily talk about my classical music joys -- most recently, for instance, my love for the DVDs of the complete Mozart opera series staged at the Salzburg Festival last summer. (That's 22 DVDs. I watched at least part of nearly all of them.) If I'm going to talk about that Mozart series to many people I know, it'll be a monologue. If I'm talking about Bjork or The Sopranos, it's a dialogue.

We in classical music badly need to know what the Bjork/Dylan/Sopranos/Almodovar audience thinks about classical concerts. Note that I'm not saying classical concerts are, in themselves, bad or good, as presently presented. Even I don't care for them (along, I might add, with many younger classical musicians), that's not an absolute value judgment. Just a personal preference. And in any case I've spent most of my professional life in the classical music world, and gotten a world of joy out of it.

In its most basic form, this is a matter of numbers. The mainstream classical music world isn't sustaining itself. The alternative classical music world (string quartets in clubs, Bang on a Can, all the things Molly goes to) has never sustained itself. Financially, I mean. These worlds, to sustain themselves, will need more audience. The potential audience is, as far as anyone can see, made up of people with -- generally speaking -- the culture I've described. So their cultural preferences, and how these differ from the culture classical music offers, are something it's crucial for classical music people to understand, if classical music is going to survive.

Posted by gsandow at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

New Help for and Old Problem

by Andrew Berryhill

For the past few years I've struggled with many funders' (most especially foundations'), desire to focus their giving on sexy project-based grants, and not the basic operation of the organization itself. In my orchestra this issue has become particularly acute in that our most attractive projects have ended-up being funded substantially by corporate underwriters. This is because most corporate funders make their decisions well before foundation grant application deadlines. Further, if a corporation decides to fund a project it will most often be at 100% of the requested grant level. Many foundations however will only partially fund a request: i.e. ask for $10,000 and get $4,000.

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious here, but can we seek to engage these same foundations in supporting some of the specific innovations we're talking about this week? Sure I'd love to have someone underwrite the totality of a season a new ideas, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen to my orchestra and with my audience. These innovations we're discussing, with their shorter development timelines, are dare I say sexy and project-oriented in a way that just might be appealing to a funder who might otherwise not have an opportunity in our traditional funding scheme that fit their giving wishes.

I guess it again comes back to engagement and development work, but instead of directly with the audience, we should be thinking more about having this conversation with potential funders.

Posted by aberryhill at 8:09 AM | Comments (1)

We the Audience

by Lynne Conner

As I leave for the airport and my flight to Nashville, I'm still thinking about Alan Brown's smart and thoughtful post from yesterday. Alan's observations from his recent research on engagement square solidly with what we've seen in Pittsburgh after three years of experimental audience-centered programming taking place before, during and after an arts event.

At the risk of being a copycat (imitation, flattery and all that), I'd like to add to Alan's list three additional observations based on early findings from the Pittsburgh experiment.

1. Engagement is not "development." Marketing strategies for "developing" (that is, increasing in numbers) an audience for a given organization may be valuable, but they are not the same as engagement. In traditional audience development strategies the audience member has been objectified and remains objectified throughout the "development" process. True enrichment programs individualize the people who make up the audience.

2. Engagement is not just a word - it's a value. Real engagement occurs in organizations where there is buy-in from the top on down. The boss and the board have to want to hear from the audience as much as the education director does. Audience-centered programming is like walking a tight-rope. If you pretend, you fall.

3. Effective audience-centered practices dismantle the notion of art object and art maker as "enlightener" and replace it with the ideal of art object and art maker as participants in a civic dialogue. This implies a redistribution of power. Some artists and some arts administrators will resist this.

One final thought. In order to create a more perfect union of arts producers and arts audiences for the 21st century, perhaps the best way to begin is by looking a little more closely at our own behavior as audience members. What are our own desires when we plunk down our hard-earned cash on our rare night off? What do we need in the way of interpretive help when we encounter an unfamiliar art form? And what happens to our level of engagement when we don't get that help?

Posted by lconner at 5:26 AM | Comments (1)