Tag Archives: Classical music and rock

Audience Development, Peter Gabriel and Orchestras

Last night I went to see one of my favorite artists, Peter Gabriel.  He is right up there with the Beatles, Sting/The Police, and all my favorite classical music composers.  For this concert tour, Peter Gabriel was being backed by his own orchestra, the New Blood orchestra.  He chose particular songs to have arranged (brilliantly, I will add by John Metcalfe) so the mix was a little more on the mellow side.  There was no “Big Time” or “Sledgehammer,” but instead moving and powerful renditions of “Mercy Street” and “Blood of Eden.”

I’m not here to review the concert per se, although I highly recommend going to see this concert, but I am here to tell you that the crowd was not only hooting and hollering for Peter, they were also very excited about the orchestra.   The orchestra was mainly comprised of  musicians from the local area and the UK.  The conductor, Ben Foster, looked very young, but was extremely polished. These musicians played with such passion and conviction that you couldn’t help cheer them on.

I have no idea if other people in this audience were orchestral fans or as big of a Peter Gabriel fan as I am, but the audience was right there with me in acknowledging powerfully performed music.

Aside from the high quality content of this concert, the execution was audience friendly.  Peter told stories of how a song came into fruition to lead into the music.  Having a better understanding of the song led to a deeper enjoyment of the music.  He was gracious in always giving nods to his fellow musicians, and he definitely seemed to being having a wonderful time, always adding his personal theatrical flair.

Of course Peter couldn’t help adding a multi-media show with video images on a finely meshed backdrop.  It served as a curtain for the orchestra as well.  He is a highly creative individual that has to share the many sides of his artistry.  The video shared the many sides of the music, including the performers themselves.

Even when it rained, perhaps due to his heavy choice of water image songs, the crowd continued to be enthralled the entire time.  I was getting bathed and soaked in both rain and wondrous music.   This means that despite the set backs of the venue or any happenstance, there was no way the audience was budging from this amazing night.

Now back to the orchestra.  There has been a trend with musicians wanting to go on tour with an orchestra, and I do not see this trend letting up.  Just today I saw another article Deep Purple Guitarist Talks North American Orchestral Tour.  There is a draw for musicians to spread their wings, and working with an orchestra can provide a new outlet for their music.  This has many advantages for the orchestra world if they are smart enough to see these advantages.

First, there are new audiences being introduced to the sounds of an orchestra in a format that is already pleasing to them, a rock concert.  The audience usually ends up cheering on the orchestra as well as the main artist.  Some of the audience will take a liking to how an orchestra sounds and seek out recordings and concerts in the future.  Here is the biggest advantage, if you are an orchestra in the area and happen to have one of these types of concerts in town, you better believe I recommend finding a way to reach this new audience.

Our local theatre performance center had a chat session during the Tonys.  I can envision local orchestras equally latching on to this opportunity by hosting Twitter chats or Facebook posts, etc.  Or, perhaps finding a way for the venue or artist to mention going to see a performance of a local orchestra.  If there is a will, there is a way.

Also, if there are local musicians performing, like there were on this concert, find a way to connect with them.  Perhaps they can be personality advocates for the orchestras in the area and reach the audience by tweeting what is it like to perform with someone like Peter Gabriel.  There are people in the audience that would enjoy getting this backstage perspective.

Lastly, I would recommend attending one of these events yourself and take notes as to how the concert is executed.  The orchestra world can learn a great deal from one of these concerts, as aforementioned.  Would it really hinder us to program new and interesting music that an audience can relate to and get excited about, and allow them to applaud when highly moved after a solo?  Mozart enjoyed it.

New audiences such as the ones that attend these types of concerts are ready and waiting if we find ways to reach them, but we must make the effort to reach them.  We could stand to shed our high orchestral ideals and learn from the world around us, even if it is outside of our genre.  Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra put on a concert that could teach us many lessons that are vastly needing to be learned.

If you would like a real review of the concert, click here! 

Peter Gabriel’s New Blood Orchestra recording Digging In The Dirt at Air from York Tillyer on Vimeo.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana

Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists

http://www.buildmyaudience.com

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“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

~James Stewart

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Ramblings of audience development, “Resuscitating Art Music” and MLK day

Before Alex Ross and today’s other advocates for changing the classical music  presentation, there was John Steinmetz.  One of my twitter friends, @RachDminor, alerted me to an essay John Steinmetz wrote called “Resuscitating Art Music.”  What surprised me about this essay is how much his ideas and concepts for change are very much the same ideas and concepts that others today are bringing to the table.  I was amazed to see it all there in this one concisely written essay.  I had a very emotional reaction to this essay.  I was happy to see it all neatly formatted, but when I looked at the date, well, I was actually mad.  Mad you might ask?  It was a crazy reaction (pun intended), but it was written in 1993 (NARAS Journal, Summer 1993,Volume 4 No. 1) !  Why didn’t we listen to him?  Why are we still dealing with these issues now?  This was almost two decades ago?  He was talking about the troubles and solutions of the 50’s.  If we knew we had a problem back then….?  I tweeted to my friend wryly, “I guess it gave me a job years later.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was a young pup just getting out of college back in 1993.  I was not into audience development since I was still into attempting to mass perform with my instrument.  I certainly wasn’t listening at that time.  Back in 1993, these ideas and concepts were not termed audience development in the United States like they are today.  The good news, we now have the term “audience development” to solidify these solutions under a coherent umbrella and hopefully this will help move us in the right direction.  The bad news, we still are not fully listening to this good advice.

Perhaps Steinmetz was too far ahead of his time (?), but it really bothered me to find out that our “new” ideas of today are not so new after all.    I’m grateful that we are coming up with some of the same solutions that Steinmetz  had outlined back in the day, but why haven’t we seriously made waves yet?  Why do we continually hold onto to old ways that are not working?  I myself feel the discouragement from time to time of whether or not people will implement needed changes to make the arts more accessible to a new generation. Is it going to take two decades more to be heard this time and two decades more to change?  By that time, time might have already given us the ax.  If changes are not made when they need to be made (now), then we may very well go extinct or at best become a whisper of what we used to be or the new generation will simply do their own thing without us.

During Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I pondered how history repeatedly shows us the wrong and the right way to do things, but it takes years for us to choose to listen to the right way and choose to take action and change after we repeatedly rehash the wrong way.  I know that sometimes we need to learn the hard way or that perhaps it simply wasn’t the right time for change.   However, we seem to have the habit of wanting and needing to change when it gets down to the wire, when it is an absolute must for our survival.  The smart ones are people that change before this time, and they do see the benefits ahead of time.

In the classical music world, I see how we are almost magically coming full circle back to the beginnings of what the presentation used to be, when Liszt and Mozart performed like rock stars, engaging the audience until they received auditory and visual satisfactory reactions during the performance.  Or, how music was performed for more intimate settings, like salon parlours (audience chambers), very much like our house music concerts of today.  Or, how the arts were projects funded by the people with input from the people and delivered to the people.

Please, don’t get me wrong.  I am encouraged to see many people discussing what we need to do to keep the arts alive and well.    The new discussions that have been occurring are very positive.  However, I am raising my hand and asking the question.  Will we as a whole take action this time?

Over the next few days I would like to dissect Steinmetz’s essay a bit.  I think you also will be quite surprised and will come to the same conclusions that I have, but hopefully with this warning blog post, you won’t get mad like I did. Instead, I hope you will add your voice and actions to making the vast needed changes finally happen!

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana

Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists
http://www.buildmyaudience.com

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“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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Classical music with a rock concert presentation…audience development?

This morning I ran across an article about a musician that didn’t quite fit into the classical music world and instead developed his career as a jazz/rock violinist.  Here is the article if you want to see what inspired my thoughts this morning: “Fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty electrifies.”

The article had me once again thinking about classical music’s presentation.  There is a history of formality that is obeyed by the musicians and the audience.  If not obeyed, the musician can lose their position and the audience member will most likely be shushed by a fellow patron.

A few of the rules are beginning to bend a bit.  In certain areas, it is now permissible to dress casually to a concert.  Where I am located, Boulder, CO, I often see  patrons dressed in jeans and a button down shirt.  Here, being comfortable is what matters to the patron, and if the requirement was to dress up, there could be patrons lost. However, the main rules of staying seated, quiet, clapping at the right times, no eating, drinking and smoking in the auditorium, are followed.

Now compare this to a rock concert where all of the rules of the classical music world are broken.  The musicians talk to the audience and get them to participate.  You can clap when you are moved.  Cheer when you want to cheer.  You can have a drink and cave into your craving for a slice of pizza.  You can talk with your friends during a concert.  If we were to look at an audience at a rock concert, we would generally see a big group of people having a great time.  Big name rock stars generally sell out their concerts too.

What can we learn from the rock presentation?  Do we dare change the classical music presentation to allow more leeway for, dare I say, individuality and audience participation?

This morning I also came across Greg Sandow’s “Why Classical Music Needs Rock & Roll. One of the points he made really caught my attention:

“Take concerts, for instance. Outside the classical music world, everybody knows what happens at a concert. People — distinct individuals — come out on stage. They’re wearing clothes that makes them happy. They talk to the audience, joke with it, and very often share some serious thoughts about war or tolerance. And if they sing a sad song, they’ll turn the lights down, not necessarily because they’re trying to manipulate our feelings, but because (and especially in a big hall) it just doesn’t make sense to sing a ballad in the same bright glare that suits a hard-rocking cheerful song.  Here, it seems to me, classical music has absolutely no choice. To the world at large, the stiff formality of a classical concert doesn’t suggest dignity or art. It conveys just one thing: Utter blankness. Who are these performers? What are they thinking about? Do they even like doing this? You can forget about selling classical music, until you make classical concerts something your prospective audience would recognize as a musical event.”

Now, I was born and raised in the classical music world.  To me, going to an orchestral concert or an opera is a set experience.    It’s a traditional presentation. The marketing for a classical music concert is for the most part been a set experience for the patron as well, although certain groups are breaking out creatively and hiring music/artistic directors with charisma.  So the question in all of this is, would a classical music concert be a classical music concert if it abandoned the rules and adopted a rock concert presentation?  Greg Sandow is under the impression that this change would at least increase attendance.

To be honest, I have seen many an orchestra attempt to increase audiences by hosting pop concerts with a more rock presentation, such as “Classical Mystery Tour,” a Beatles Tribute experience.  I happen to be a Beatles nut myself, and I went to one of these concerts.  And, you know what?  The auditorium was packed!  The audience was diverse!  People were cheering, dancing in their seats (although frowned upon if they stood up and danced), and everyone was having a great time.

I have also been to pops concerts where the guest artist allowed the audience to become a part of the evening by chanting, singing, or giving feedback during the performance – real live audience participation.   And, you know what?  Those particular concerts were considered some of the most memorable and well liked of the entire season!

In this day and age of audiences wanting to be a part of the experience again, maybe it is time to take a look at our traditional presentation of classical music.  Maybe it is time to bend a few rules, get to know the musicians, and allow all of us to become a little more colorful (all in good taste that is).  For those of you that can’t imagine stooping to produce a rock presentation, perhaps take a little leap and look at the cross-over classical music artists that seem to be making a name and building an audience for themselves.   They are still sharing the joy of classical music, but allowing more freedom for their own individuality and for their audience to react.  Some may call it an artistic sell out, but many people see it simply as smart, or translation, as a sold out performance.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana

Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists
http://www.buildmyaudience.com
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“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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