Individuals for classical

chairsStarting tonight, Alan Chapman of KUSC fame begins a twofer of music appreciation classes for the LA PhilInside the Music is designed for folks of various levels of musical knowledge to learn a bit about the repertoire performed by the world-class orchestra.  Chapman is an engaging speaker with proven crowd appeal, and the lighter-than-usual touch behind this program is bound to draw the curious to the iconic and exciting spaces of Disney Hall.  The events also sport a measly $3 ticket price, making them accessible to just about anyone.

The news of this endeavor engenders two things:  a mental whoop of bravo!, and a rant.  Please bear with me, as the latter needs a little exercising:

This is the sort of invaluable Everyman marketing that too many arts organizations have missed, or even ignored:  with so little music education in schools, our audience is dwindling, not due to a complete lack of public interest, but most often due to the cultural intimidation felt by many members of the general population.  Once the spark of curiosity is discovered, however, it doesn’t take much to help people get a handle on beautiful music.  Listeners of all ages will try the unfamiliar if a friendly opportunity arises — they just need help finding a way to approach it.  Even the pop world is doing a better job than too many traditional music organizations of harnessing the classical aesthetic, as Josh Groban and Il Divo fans are obviously craving something of more substance than is currently offered by the Biebers of the world.  How hard can it be to give a Grobanite a leg up into the saddle of “real” classical music?  (Sorry, Josh — you know it’s true, no matter what Rosie O’Donnell calls you.)

The most distressing issue is that too many members of the music community have given up on creating this type of outreach:  they disregard that spark-nurturing effort as “not worth it” or “ineffective” (two comments heard recently, from two sources who should know better).  Perhaps they’re wrapped up in the details of their own survival, or worse, fixated by the imperative of “artistic integrity”.  But although (thankfully) not all musicians adhere to this negative mindset, such cynics are missing the point of being an artist: music and art are not here merely to meet our intellectual and emotional needs, but to make the world a better place.  Those of us who excel in musical skills are duty-bound to share with others, creating joy and beauty, but also helping people step out of day-to-day reality for a bit, provoking deeper thinking and making the people in the world better in the process.

Other genres, of course, do this, too, and no one is saying that classical music should be the only thing people to.  But “mainstream” music often lacks the depth and complexity that makes the best art music timeless and worth perpetuating.  There is much to be gained from listening to masterworks across a lifetime, and teaching newbies how to listen and relate to this marvelous repertoire is absolutely worth the energy, as the act of listening itself can help a person grow.

Just as music cannot fulfill its purpose in a vacuum, neither can a rant.  So let’s be clear:  I’m not just babbling for my own amusement.  This is a call to action.

The Phil’s new effort is an excellent example of what organized music can do.  But there is a necessary and intrinsic individual mandate in being part of the arts community: just as we cannot depend on large organizations to provide most of us with a living, we also cannot depend on them to build our audiences.  As classical pros, we can do much to share the world’s timeless works with other individuals, and there’s no time like the present.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll offer a series of suggestions of how musicians and artists can reach out on their own.  These ideas are just a starting point — every individual artist needs to find and maintain a sense of mission, create a niche, and develop a following, whether large or small.  We must figure out what we do best, and then learn why others might be interested — it keeps us relevant and forces us to get out of our own day-to-day realities.
To get the ball rolling, let’s get logical:

traditional home in Iceland#1 — Start at home 

Every musician has someone in their life who is interested in what they do, but who doesn’t fully connect with it.  Invite that grandmother, niece, neighbor or coworker to a concert or an opera, and make a real event of it:

  • Keep the group small, so no one gets lost in the crowd.
  • Choose the repertoire carefully, so they can get their feet wet and really enjoy themselves.
  • Plan the details of the experience ahead, keeping their comfort in mind.
  • If possible, meet before the show or go out afterward, so you can share ideas back and forth.
  • Once the meeting is arranged, put your inner snob in its time-out corner:  be warm and relaxed, and really share your own excitement about the music.
  • If the moment is right, tell stories about the composer and give them things to listen and watch for — is there a great solo in the middle?  Are the percussionists using something unusual in this piece?

Make it fun, let them talk to you about it, and really listen to how they respond to the experience.  You’re guaranteed to learn a few things, yourself.

Just think:  If you can find one person who can be invited into a deeper appreciation of your art and that of your colleagues, there are bound to be others who would be interested, too, and for the same reasons.  What are you doing now to find new ears?  How are you welcoming their owners?  What can you learn from these people that is beyond your current perspective?

We want to hear from you — please comment and let us know what has worked for you, offer links to the outreach projects you’re working on, and tell us your stories of how you made a connection for your art.

Can you feel the beat from the heart of the art?



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