Hi everyone, @ThatViolaKid here! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and the warm presence of family and friends!
I know I sure enjoyed it! Living in Manhattan and going to school at the Juilliard School is more than taxing for my body. It’s taxing on my emotions and my very soul! In order to make sure that my two short years here will be time well spent, I’m taking advantage of every opportunity that my sanity will allow! I’m working as a Library Assistant, Principal Usher, Lab Orchestra Member, and a Precollege Mentor. Not only am I working all these jobs, but I’m also doing my best to be involved in as many entrepreneurial programs as possible! I love these programs because they really get me asking questions about the state of classical music: “Why are audiences dwindling? Why is there lack of interest? Why don’t people know the difference between a Violin and Viola (lol)? Why don’t people know about Shostakovich?” These are all questions that are constantly swirling in my head.
And then it hit me.
What we are truly missing today is audience-building and community ENGAGEMENT. I don’t like the term “outreach.” In my humble opinion, it further addresses an elitist notion that we as artists must “reach out” to people in order for them to “get us.” No, it’s way simpler than that. People want people. They want interaction. They want a connection. When they go to a concert, they’re paying money to feel something that a CD or a music download will not give them. When I talk to strangers and my non-musical friends about classical music, the biggest comments I hear are: “It’s too hard to understand. It’s boring. Don’t only rich people listen to that? That kind of music doesn’t speak to me.” Now, I’m sure many of you all have heard the same things, or even had said them! However, if an African-American boy from Atlanta, Georgia can understand classical music, anyone can. I didn’t start the viola until I was in middle school. I had only listened to J.S. Bach because my mom made me, and initially, I never really had much love for classical music. I mean c’mon, all of these composers are dead white dudes. How could they ever have anything to say that would speak to me and my life in the 21st century????? But, I get it. I understand it. I love classical music so much, that I just HAVE to try to show people what I’ve seen. I’m sure that if more people knew what I know, heard what I’ve heard, and seen what I’ve seen, they would love classical music just as much as I would, and we would NOT have the present recession in classical music that we are seeing today.
So, how do we do it? How do we persuade audiences of the 21st century to stop looking at Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and come down to the Symphony Hall to get dressed, pay for a ticket, and sit down in a dark room for a few hours? The thing is…you don’t.
In the 21st century, we see so many pop artists and indie artists doing wonderful things through the lens of social media. They’re humanizing themselves while sharing music with their fans. They’re building connections and brands that truly make a difference in others’ lives. And you know what? These fans will travel across the country, sit in lines that multiple blocks, and jam up next to hundreds of smelly strangers just to get a glimpse of these artists. The time and money commitment is extremely comparable to that of classical music, if not more! But the turnout between these two scenarios is quite different.
Every marketer understands one thing. If you want to reach people, you must go where they are. Well, were are people these days? On their phones! 3 out of 5 people use their phones while driving. The social media revolution that we’re living through is so crazy, that 60% of people on the road aren’t even looking at it (hyperbole, but you get the point)! If classical music is to survive, we have rebranding to do. We have to overhaul how we interact with audiences, present our art, and carry ourselves! This might seem scary to some, but for me, it feels so right. Classical music used to be the pop music of its day. It wasn’t even that formal until Liszt came up with the idea of recitals! People used to ask Mozart to come jam in their living rooms! I’m sure Beethoven would be all over Twitter if he were alive today! And the young Chopin would probably be an Instagram sensation with all the dashing selfies he would have taken! The point is, we have to transport their lives into the 21st century. People love people. If we present these masterpieces and works of art as human creations by human people, I think it will allow new audiences to resonate with the music better!
I’m still a greenhorn. I’m nowhere close to the level I want to be as a musician. I’m still a student. I know very little about the world and I know I am an idealist. I’m also sure that many people will disagree with what I have to say, and that’s perfectly fine. I don’t have all the answers. However, if massive change doesn’t happen, the art that I love dearly may no longer be a profession! I don’t want to see all of these wonderful, young artists grow up into a world that not longer values the art they create! So let’s try something new! Let’s give it a shot!
Everything about Juilliard is heightening my musical intuition and my perception of what it means to be an artist. While I’m here, I’m going to be experimenting with different ideas on how we can utilize social media to connect with audiences! My latest project is through Instagram! I’m going to be holding the world’s first Instagram #MusiciansInstaMeet here in New York City on December 13th. Next time, I’ll tell you how it went, what I think it can do for classical music as a whole, and whether or not it can be replicated! Until next time!