Monday 21 September 2015

How To Increase Audience Numbers

This is part of some research into the direction of music education, the mysteries of its funding and the associated role of community music-making. Contact me to contribute your opinion.

A constant complaint from music societies and promoters alike is the problem of audience numbers. I'm not well-enough informed to know if audience numbers in the classical music field are dwindling in general but I have some experience with certain aspects of it. It's a multi-fold subject and can't be considered as a whole to arrive at any useful conclusions. For example, classical music encompasses a whole range of genres, from early music and Baroque, to early 20th-century and contemporary, each genre with overlapping, but different audiences.

There are also different types of division to be recognised. For example, the division between those who know about music, who are versed in its esoteric jargon of cadences, codas, sonata forms and suspensions, and those who love listening to and playing music, know what they love, but don't know why and don't understand the jargon. Narrowing this gap would be a big help.

Age is a factor. At one end of the spectrum, the traditional classical program audiences, particularly for chamber music and music festivals, are aging and conservative in their taste. At the other end, the youthful end, potential audiences find it difficult to find a way in, discover only institutionalised pomposity and lack of visceral pleasure in concert going. It's the conservatism that is the barrier. Informality may be a key here to combating this.

I'm generalising, but whichever aspect of this problem you consider, the solution seems to lead back to music education and the relationship of grass-roots music making to this. The heart of music education is in our schools and colleges, but it should also be considered further afield. Music societies, for example, have a role to play in not only presenting music but, through education - presenting workshop programs, say - encouraging new members and involving audiences in the process of making music.

This has come into focus because of severe funding pressures on music education in schools, where everyone seems to recognise the benefits of learning about and participating in music but places too low a monetary value on it. Consequently, there is a void in music education opening up that can be filled by music societies of all kinds.

In terms of the practicalities of how to increase audience numbers, well, imagine concerts that are not based on 'them and us', not based on audiences down here and musicians up there, but which aim to make connections between the them and the us. We need a new word to describe the audience plus musicians symbiosis: the living together of two dissimilar organisms. The musience?

Monday 7 September 2015

Musical Graffiti

Here's a potted portrait of a modern composer, compared with the moody creature who used to sit down with a quill pen and scratch inky marks on some parchment paper, balanced precariously on the top of a piano or harpsichord (the parchment not the composer). This new being uses a digital audio work station, patches and loops, samples and special effects, ready loaded into his mixing desk. Then, on stage, in front of a shouting, jumping audience, he starts with a bass line and synthesised drums. After that the remixes flow of prerecorded music. This is where the composition factor kicks in, for our composer can now be as creative as he can or wants, mixing in, mixing out. The audience love it and will groove along for hours. The place is jumping and our composer is having a great time, too. Oh, yep, and don't forget the syncronised light show, the laser beams and disco lights, the backdrop film that turns the whole set into a spaceship or a volcano, a journey through mountains or a trip to the bottom of the sea. That's a face of contemporary composition, a skilful scribbling with sound.