Wow…so many complex questions…and so little time this week.
She IS a cruel, cruel blog-mistress. (I think I like it.)
Seriously, as I divulged in my first post (ever), I am new to this blogging thing. So…up went my first submission Monday night…next thing I know, it’s Thursday, and the tidal wave of commentary has hit. I will try to get caught up now by addressing some of the pointed questions to me…and some of the more general ideas bandied about. Let the jibber-jabber begin.
I’m interested to hear from Michael about how well he feels he knows the artists he brings to Ann Arbor, since he spends short but concentrated amounts of time with them.
Hmmmm….the dreaded and nuanced meaning of the word “know”. If you mean “as people”: very well; uncomfortably well (really); kinda well; not at all – the entire spectrum. If you mean “as artists” then I would like to think that knowing in the sense that I am familiar with a person’s artistry minimally reaches the “kinda well” threshold, but there too, I sometimes take risks by committing to someone whose work I less than “kinda know”, but have other reasons to be curious about. Personally knowing an artist and developing a relationship can be a double-edged sword. At times very rewarding, sometimes humbling, sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes beside the point. (I certainly don’t need to recount the bubble-bursting experience that we all have probably had in some fashion when meeting someone whose work we really respect and learning that he or she is a _____________.) I ALWAYS try and separate the work from the person. Honestly though, I am also aware that the truly less-than-pleasant often have to ultimately jump through a higher hoop when it comes to a return engagement. And jump they do…and jump we do. After all, when it’s good…it’s good.
This knowing question becomes more complex the more I ponder it. Upon the five minutes of reflection I have just engaged in, I do make two very big distinctions when it comes to the importance of personally knowing an artist:
1) is the artist essentially interpretive or creative. Ultimately, I need to know far less about the inner-workings or sensibilities of an interpretive artist than I do a creative artist. With an interpretive artist, the proof is in the interpretive pudding; with a creative artist, I often times find myself in a position of wanting to support his/her “new work” or “next project” – composer, improvisatory player, dance maker, performance artist — and final decision making is often times based on a personal discussion of ideas or intent. I certainly don’t intend for this to sound so black and white. OF COURSE, this can also be critical in working with interpretive artists as well, especially when it comes to project-based or conceptual work, but it is MORE critical with the former;
2) is the artist already established on a clear career path…or just starting out? Younger performers, regardless of their interpretive OR creative endeavor, demand our (presenter’s) attention as they need sounding boards, mentors, experts, colleagues….”professional friends”.
AND all this being said, a good presenter is ALWAYS a good host…period. And the process of getting to know one another which is the result, I am happy to report, is most often a joy.
Interestingly, this forum does offer a kind of remove from the charged world of the performance environment within which to ask questions…so, I can’t resist Jonathan: How important is it to you to get to know a presenter who has invited you to play for their audience? (Full disclosure everyone: the last time Jonathan was in Ann Arbor, I was traveling and missed his Hill Auditorium recital, and have never MET him…I do not KNOW him personally.)
Then, O Mistress Mine posed:
So to our esteemed virtual panel I ask, whose responsibility is it to make a concert special? The artist’s? Their manager’s? The presenter’s? The PR and Marketing departments’? The production team’s? Or maybe we should all stay out of it and let concert-goers decide for themselves what’s special to them; perhaps our versions or what’s going to be special shouldn’t factor in at all. Should concerts even be considered special occasions, or would it be better for the industry if they were part of people’s everyday lives?
Shucks…more gray. Everyone plays a role, of course. Remember, it takes a village. YES, manager communicate critical planning info, and PR and marketing departments disseminate, frame and voice that info to ensure that an audience arrives at the special event. That is of no small importance…but also seems pretty obvious. Less clear, but very important, I believe, is the role of the production department in making the event rise above the ordinary. Care and understanding backstage can make or break an event; respect for the extraordinary demands placed on an artist when he or she walks on stage is of paramount importance. (I know, it all sounds a little precious maybe…but I actually believe this is true. And I see the fruit that this approach bears over and over again in my own auditorium.) I have also always pretty much sympathized with those dreaded diva shenanigans backstage as either veiled nerves OR the necessary need to command an inner authority before walking into that pool of light. Speaking of light…production departments can also make all the difference to the audience’s sense of specialness when it comes to the stage look. One of my fellow guest bloggers talked about “special lighting” as an enhancer…it’s a no brainer…and can really imprint a “memory picture” of that which is otherwise ephemeral.
Manger…check; PR/Marketing…check; production dept…check.
That brings us to artist’s and audience member’s responsibility to this specialness equation. One easy…and for me, appropriate answer, is that we can never really know…thus all the wonderful flailing about on this blog in an attempt to answer the question. I guess that the fact that it IS ultimately an unanswerable mystery is one of the reasons it is so cherish by some…me included. But, not to let myself off the hook too easily, there are certainly things that we know are part of this murky equation:
Beyond being ABLE to communicate something, the artist has to HAVE something to communicate…or, put another way, musically voice some kind of opinion…have a point of view…about his/her chosen repertoire. This almost always comes across as a kind of performative conviction that demands attention. Artists shouldn’t perform music they don’t ultimately care about…even if the repertoire “makes for a good program”. Audiences can smell ambivalence. I would much rather hear a “lesser” performer launch into something they really care about, than one of the greats “phone it in.” This might seem like too obvious a point…but…I see it all the time. (LMO, indeed.)
But, I think that the whole calculus for “achieving a sense of specialness” is placed too heavily on the artist’s shoulders. (An interesting audience values and impact research study my organization helped commission referred to this achieved specialness as “flow”…WOW!!) The one thing that is clear is that it is a 50/50 proposition…artist/audience member…and that there are many contributing factors well beyond the performance that play a role.
I am pretty surprised how unaware audience members are of their own responsibility in preparing themselves to possibly have a special experience. (
Or their own culpability in undermining it.) The process of opening one’s self up to the experience…in my mind it is a kind of “unclenching”…is hard, and getting harder it seems. Helping audience members understand that they need to meet an artist half way is a start. (I take a lot of grief from some colleagues because I need to be at the theater early to ensure that I have a buffer of time to “let go” and prepare myself for the performance. I see it as my responsibility in meeting the performer half way.) And then there are the extra-musical, circumstantial, knowledge-based, and serendipitous things that intervene that also add up to the memorable experience. For some of us, it is hard to accept that sometimes it has NOTHING to do with the music.
And what about perceived and real value and its role in the specialness equation? I am not sure if when one adjusts ticket prices from current day dollar values and compares them to the past, if they are truly MORE expensive…but it certainly seems so. And when an experience is fundamentally MORE expensive and, therefore, NEEDS to be assigned more value in dollar terms…what kind of pressure is that putting on the experience to be special. The currency of time seems to also be at an increasing premium…therefore, more specialness pressure.
Enough flailing for the night…
A special shout out, though, to Matthew and his reminding us of the radical nature of the continuum that we all connect with every time we sit at a concert house listening to “classical” music….or, really, music period. It is one of favorite things about going to concerts…the imagining I find myself lost in…it feels like time travel to me…those who listened before me…those who sat in my seat once upon a time…and, yes, those who will listen in the future. It makes me feel connected in a way that few things do. So there, even for me, it isn’t ALWAYS about the music or performance itself, but sometimes what the music conjures…
Jonathan responds to this post in the comments.