Expanding the Live Music Experience

Have you ever been approached by a friend or relative asking you go to a concert? They probably seem SO excited to go see that band or singer. Or maybe they want to go hear the guest soloist with the local symphony, or see the newest opera production. What was your reaction? And for those of you lucky enough to have friends with eclectic tastes – was your reaction to the invitation to go to the rock/pop concert any different than for the classical/art music performance?

For years the symphony orchestra has seen dwindling crowds, and ever fewer donation dollars. It seems at times that only the healthiest ensembles are going to survive. I shared some of my feelings about the subject here.

The more I think about the shrinking number of consumers of live western art music, the more I am inclined to wonder how performers and managers are going to adapt to survive. Or are they going to just simply allow the societal and cultural tastes in music run them out of business? It seems to me that many proponents of “classical music” would sneer at the thought of changing things up to appease the masses (aka increase consumers through ticket sales). Preferring, instead, to beat their proverbial chests at the grandeur of their art.


Why is a classical music concert, according to many of my friends (and even family members), be considered boring or snooty when compared to the touring rock band coming through your town next week?

How does a solo artist, or ensemble change public perception without feeling like they are “selling out” to stay financial solvent?

We all know that it isn’t the sound of an orchestra that keeps patrons from filling concert halls or theaters. Most musicians that do any type of outreach can attest to hearing dozens of people say: “I had no idea that your instrument/voice could sound like that!” EVERY time we play. Many/most films, TV shows, and video games have orchestral soundtracks. And even non-music people are often overheard remarking about how the music added to the overall production.

So why do so many people cringe when asked about going to the opera/ballet/ symphony/jazz festival?

Why can’t a picture of something like this:

Make an individual
want to react like this:

Maybe It’s Us

Maybe the way that classically trained musicians and ensembles are packaging and presenting our art is part of the cause. The professional symphonies have tended to wear and share their art the same way for decades (centuries really). Saying to their audiences effectively: “We’ll play, you shut up and listen.”

Now before you start to label me a heretic, let me just say that I think that their must be a way to engage an audience more effectively than what is currently done WITHOUT selling out to an all-pops-all-the-time orchestra season.

I am suggesting that it’s time for creative people to get creative. One such creative person recently spoke about using multiple senses in design.

We Need Ideas!

We need ideas that we can try. We need ideas that will succeed, and ideas that will fail. We, as creators of classical music need to continue to produce high-quality music AND start being more creative with the way we present it.

What are your ideas? What could I add to my next recital that would add another sensory element to the experience without detracting from the music itself? How could an orchestra add another sensory element to their Beethoven symphony performance (without upsetting the good folks who clean the hall)?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!


About rbedont

I'm a husband, father, and brother. I'm a professional musician, teacher, and doctoral student. That sounded like those "I'm a Mormon" commercials. Oh ya, I'm one of those too. I like to cook - it's much cheaper than going to a shrink. I envision this blog as a hodgepodge of all of those things, plus some shenanigans.
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3 Responses to Expanding the Live Music Experience

  1. James says:

    I am by far no doctor or music and my extent of learning classical music was theory and harmony classes in High School, which I found to leave me feeling the same way you have just described the reaction toward an invitation to attend an orchestral concert. A few years ago, I attended a International Sales Conference as a presenter. I had the privilege to attend the key note speaker sessions. The key note speaker talked about leadership and applied this to business, but also about the coming new generation. He made the point that with the new generation, because of technological advancements, people will be seeking out the overall EXPERIENCE.

    That is the revision that any performer must consider. Is the experience feeling boring? Snooty? Too posh? Is it flat? Does the performer feel it? Can I see the performer feels it? What do they feel? Why? How can the orchestra create an experience that can be relatable to a younger generation?

    I think rather than just play pieces of music, consideration of the story behind the piece of music should be given. Why was this piece written? What does it represent? What conflicts is it trying to express? We all face similar challenges that were faced then from an emotional perspective. How can the orchestra demonstrate and show this to an audience seeking out the Experience.

    The Experience is why people will watch a movie and hear the classical orchestration, yet not be aware that the emotion evoked while watching the movie is what had a tremendous impact on their overall experience. It’s not just audible. It’s visual too. You posted a video of a percussionist a while ago who talked about the evocation of emotion in performing music and she demonstrated how a piece of music could sound flat and boring, and within a few different minor changes and techniques, the same line of flat uneventful music, suddenly became alive.

    It’s not good enough to just stand and play an instrument and expect others to understand the intricacies of the instrument and what makes it special. The performer is what makes that instrument special to others. Think about a rock concert, People attend because it’s about the overall experience. They have lights, and videos, and it’s a show. Fantasia is a great primitive example of how classical music can be used to create an experience. Kids still watch it. It’s impactful and exciting, and visiually stimulating. It uses dynamic of sound and rythym to invoke passion, sadness, empathy, sympathy, all the things we humans need to create an experience. We identify with rock songs because they make sure they remain relevant. The music is talking about the things that are relevant today within us. Classical music contains this same relevancy, only it’s much more difficult to convey that.

    It’s not selling out to modify your presentation to remain relevant with what the public demands. Your survival depends on it. For any organism that refuses to adapt, it becomes extinct. This applies to everything. Adaptation is required for survival. Adaptation of the classical genre and world of music is necessary and required for survival. Create an experience. Make me feel it. Make me see it. Perform the hell out of that instrument in a way that will make me think it’s cool.

    As a professional vocalist and mentor to others. I have strongly admonished my students and those who I’ve talked to seriously about singing, never perform a song that hasn’t moved you, that you don’t feel when you sing it. You have no business singing it if it doesn’t pull out of you every reason why it speaks to you. You can’t convey the message and feeling of a song unless you, the performer feels it. I believe this is the same with performers of instruments. Create the Experience that is relevant to the desires of the public and you will survive and turn things around.

    • rbedont says:

      Thanks for you comment James!
      I appreciate you mentioning both the business side of the issue as well as the performance side.
      I also agree that “classical music” is just as relevant as the rock/pop music of today, but audiences often have a harder time deciphering the meaning of the music being performed – simply because they lack the knowledge needed to fully understand the work. I feel that part my responsibility as the performer is to not only play at a very high level, but also give the audience some of the information they need to better understand the intricacies of what I’m playing (and why it’s relevant to them)!

  2. James says:

    Do you think that knowledge to understand the work is necessary? Respectfully, I think that very idea lends itself to the overall perception that the general public has about classical music, and their musicians. I don’t really believe that a person must have a complete knowledge of a piece of music for it to have a profound affect on them. I don’t understand or know about every piece of music I listen to. For example, I can listen to a contemporary song and not have all the knowledge of what it took for the composer to write it, or under what exact circumstances it was written, or whether a cadence was ended in a 5 to 1 chord. I frankly want to be entertained, made to feel, made to enjoy, made to feel like I’ve experienced something valuable and worth the time and attention I devoted to it. My point is simply that for the average person, which is who you are trying to influence and appeal to, if I understand correctly, music and concernts, and listening to music is about the experience. Make me feel it. I don’t need to have knowledge of classical music to feel it. It’s at the moment I feel it that it then speaks to my soul. It’s then that my curiosity is peaked to know more about the piece of music, and then I go seeking it out. The general public doesn’t care to knowl all the nuances of classical music, or music for that matter. That is where you, as a musician, differ from the general public and why you sought out an educational career in music. I completely respect and admire your passion and drive and your knowledge and intelligence and capabilities and talents in this area, so I’m not arguing that it’s of no value or a waste of someone else’s time. But you asked how you can appeal or what you can do differently in recitals to help others appreciate the music you are playing in greater capacity right? You or any performer rather. Why is it that a singer like Britney Spears, who really has a mediocre voice, can drive the masses and collect the money her career has successfully accomplished? It;s not because she knows music. It’s not because her voice is incredibly good. She has appeal. She and her management team have strategically made her relevant to the public. That’s what I mean by becoming relevant. To gain that relevancy, there’s got to be an appeal and there’s got to be something that grabs attention. I like the symphony and attending orchestral concerts. I enjoy them much more than other concerts because they are relaxing, but I’ve also found that near then end, if I haven’t felt chills when a song plays, or excitement when a song plays, etc., I find myself counting the remaining number of songs and trying to time how much is left. I even consider leaving early because I don’t want to deal with traffic; however, I’ve been to performances, classical as well, that have left me feeling such incredible feelings, that it doesn’t feel long enough, I sit for a minute when it’s over and I don’t care what traffic is like…I use traffic in a literal sense, as well as metaphorically for whatever outside influence has my attention…because the music and the feelings felt from it have been inspiring, met my expectations in the least, and I feel that it was time and money well spent. You are definitely correct that your responsibility is to play at a high level, and to educate…but if you are trying to draw in a general public, unfortunately, those nuances don’t matter as much as their experience. Consider this, many of the accomplished and successful artists appealing to the masses right now, don’t have the technique that accompllished and well rehearsed musicians have, yet people still listen to them and want to hear them, and want to be at their concerts…it’s not because of the techniques, it’s because their appeal identifies with the mass somehow, for whatever reason. Stephanie and I have had this discussion quite a bit. I am a perfectionist when it comes to my singing. I expect myself to perform my intrument (voice) at a high level with the greatest and most precise technique possible; however, if I put too much emphasis on that and can’t convey the feeling the song wants to convey, the audience doesn’t identify. I don’t believe when a person tells me they got chills when I sang that it was my voice. To me, I know I successfully brought out the feeling within the song and music. It’s why the average person who listens will not hear a slightly off tone note. To them it’s about the overall experience. Get that down, and you’ve got the attention of your audience and the attendance of others.

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