While attending the Venezuelan Music concert last night in Pickman Hall, I had a revelation. Rather, a couple synapses in my brain made an important connection for the first time. Instead of handing out program notes, the performers chatted with the audience. They would share information before each piece, explaining what region certain rhythms or dances were from, personal anecdotes, or facts about the composers. It was a refreshing change to the concert atmosphere, especially since the music already made me want to get up and dance instead of sitting in my seat as a vapid audience member. Many of the barriers between the audience and the performers were reduced. Pretty soon, people were clapping after a great solo, laughing, and even bopping along in their seats. Having the performers share their stories and the origins of the pieces helped me appreciate and enjoy the music a lot more than if they had just played straight through the program. It added a dimension to the concert, especially since we were able to learn about the performers themselves.
About halfway through, a synapse fired and I was reminded of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra’s pre-concert talks. When the SSO was still around (they unfortunately had to file for bankruptcy in April 2011 and haven’t been around on an official level since) the conductor, Daniel Hege, would hold pre-concert talks, where anyone with a ticket could come a little early to the concert and participate in an informal chat about the evening’s program. He would discuss the composer’s background, thematic material to listen for (with demonstrations at a piano), compositional techniques and historical background. He would then answer any questions the audience had, and there usually were quite a few. It was a wonderful way to acknowledge the audience, have a conversation with them and at the same time inform them about the music they were about to hear. This was much more relevant and interactive than program notes. The community loved it and would say so, frequently. The music became more accessible and enjoyable to those without a “highbrow” musical background.
I then realized how wonderful this conversational approach towards the audience really is. It’s also a step in the right direction to broaden the audience of classical music. It’s obviously not a cure-all, but recognizing the audience actually exists and eliminating the wall between the performers and the audience is a definite step forward. I wonder how many people would feel less intimidated by classical music if all concerts had this conversational approach. It’s certainly something we should all keep in mind as we go out and perform in the world at large.