The Doctor is In
So yesterday I talked a little bit about interacting with your audience, and how even a little bit of per-performance talking can go a long ways towards building rapport with the people you want to keep around. There are other ways of doing this, as well. Q&A sessions with people who pay a little extra, maybe with a little wine and cheese. Happy Feelings Time, of course of course. A little brainstorming, and I'm sure you can come up with more ways of interacting with the audience. Today, though, I'm going to talk about something else. I'm going to talk about interactivity in concerts.
Boulez may be a bit of dick, but...
There's this composer you may or may not have heard of. His name is Pierre Boulez. When I was tube surfing on the YouTubes, I came across a fascinating video. If I am not mistaken, it was a concert directed specifically at Conservatoire students, but it appeared to be an open concert, as well. At this concert, he was conducting his own music. Boulez is one of those composers whose music is often labelled "difficult" here in America. That is, his music is not just a rabbit, but a Babbitt Rabbit as well. But here was a nearly full hall, including music students, musicians, and lay people, all gathered to hear his music. Granted, this was in France, and European concerts tend to feature more "difficult" music than here in America, but he was doing something I have never seen in America. He was breaking his music down into its musical parts, and discussing how they all fit together into the piece they were about to hear.
It was a phenomenal use of time. Yes, he took about 20 minutes just laying the nuts and bolts out, but by the end of it all, you knew how to listen to his piece. You knew what to expect, how it was put together. You could no longer make the claim that it was all just "random nonsense," because he was so clear, so lucid, you would have to either be totally, or willfully, dense to not get it. I was blown away. Here was a man who knew how to connect with his audience. True, he was using his own music as an example, but it worked. I walked away from that concert respecting Boulez a bit more than I had before.
Yes, but he's a Stinky Cheeseman Frenchy. What about us patriotic Americans?
Well, here in America we have a similar, but far less avant garde, conductor. We have Michael Tilson Thomas. He is director of the San Francisco Symphony, as well as the New World Orchestra. These are great institutions, but what I really want to spotlight is the TV series Keeping Score. In each episode, he discusses a specific work in its historical and musical contexts, as well as how that piece personally relates to the composer who wrote it. If you haven't seen any of these documentaries, they are really wonderful. Thomas is a genial and, just as importantly, knowledgeable host. He not only discusses the music, but plays some of it as well. He's kind of like... Well, he's kind of like a contemporary Bernstein, who used television to similar effect, bringing classical music into the homes of millions across America.
If you want to connect to your audience, talk with them. Discuss the music. Bring it into a place where the audience feels they can relate to it. Or failing that, at least understand it. Break the music apart. Show how it's put together. Like Boulez. But just as importantly, make the music human again. Like Tilson Thomas. Building understanding will get people to respect you. Building humanity will get people to come back for more. You need both, which is tricky... But it's doable. It must be, or we die. In a fire. While being eaten by raptors. Sneaky, sneaky raptors...