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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Building audiences

A great guest post by Henry Peyrebrune on Drew McManus' site: Adaptistration

Some excerpts (but go to the full post--it's worth it):
Community service has been the orchestral buzzword for the past decade as orchestras have grappled with competition from new media and other art forms, and the loss of our privileged position in the minds of the media, academia, philanthropy and business. We ask ourselves whether we can educate enough people so that they’ll support us in the fixture. Have we isolated ourselves via the traditional concert experience? Will performing in nightclubs or grocery stores reach new audiences? How can we reach the underprivileged youth of our cities in order to share our music with them and try to somehow replace the loss of the substantive public school music education most of us had?
While these ideas intrigue us and excite some of our major funders, we question whether this will harm our responsibility to the art form. We’ve spent decades trying to build longer subscription seasons with thoughtful, challenging programming, sufficient rehearsal time, good conductors and an ever-rising level of playing. The level of playing and access to strong performances of the full repertoire is better that it has ever been. Will a new emphasis on community service harm the artistic quality we’ve worked so hard to develop? Did I practice and sacrifice so much just to end up in a string quintet hacking through March of the Toreadors in a shopping mall somewhere?
These are all good questions, but they’re the wrong ones.
I’d like to propose 3 simple questions to replace them:
  1. Who are our audiences? (emphatically plural)
  2. How can we touch individual members of our audiences?
  3. What do we do to build on that relationship?
. . .

I tell my students that music is a great way to communicate human emotion. If you’re feeling angry or insecure, music is a great way to share that with your listeners. It’s also an incredible way to communicate an aching love for beauty, to share that desire for something beyond us. At its best, music reaches from one heart to another, or even to many.

Once we’ve touched someone like that, they want to get to know us. They want to spend time with us, to feel a sense of pride and ownership.In Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire and CityMusic do a great job of inspiring and building this relationship. Their audiences love to hear AF music director Jeanette Sorrell greet them and share her ideas about the pieces. CityMusic serves cookies at intermission so the musicians and audience can mingle and both orchestras play in venues that have the musicians and audience in close proximity. People feel an emotional connection with the music and the performers.

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