Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

The journey: Musician turned storyteller November 18, 2010

My artistic challenge was to develop new storytelling skills in the attempt to make my delivery of classical music more accessible.

Unless I know a piece of music very well and can anticipate what is going to happen next, I have a tendency to drift off when listening to music. I belive many new comers to classical music feel the same, as the music just washes over them. However, I find it easier to understand music when it has a narrative or is programmatic. For example, in Peter and the Wolf I like the way I can associate different tunes with different characters. If gives me something to focus on and keeps me engaged.

I wanted to build on this idea by using language to help guide what the listener should focus on. For this I realised I needed to improve my storytelling skills. I wanted gain to gain confidence in telling stories and learn any tricks of the trade. My final goal was to be able to incorporate storytelling with classical music.



My issue in the arts: the classical concert experience November 14, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 10:28 pm
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How do we transform the conventional classical concert experience to make it more engaging for a wider audience?

One word answer: Diversify

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Technology has allowed music to step into the C21st but the conventional concert experience is still stuck in the past. We need to diversify the concert experience to give people a choice in the way they interact with classical music.

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Today, live concert experiences are not the only way we can hear music. Music permeates our everyday lives. At the click of a button we can hear it on an ipod, instantly download it from the internet or even hear it played in public spaces such as London underground stations. The way we interact with music, including classical, is thoroughly modern. The exception to the rule is the concert experience. This tradition has remained relatively unchanged since the C19th.

For the listener who is accustomed to having technology and all its benefits at their finger tips, stepping into a concert hall can either be a welcomed or mystifying step into another world. For the vast majority of the population, their reaction tends to err to the later. If cultural institutions want to attract young and diverse audiences into the concert hall, they need to recognise the way the modern person chooses to interact with classical music.

Problematically, transforming the conventional classical concert experience is not a straightforward task. It is all too easy to criticise the current format of concerts, but it is not so easy to put forward a successful new model. However, I would argue that the main step we need to make is to diversify. We need more variety in the types of concerts that are promoted and more variety in the music played.



Stringfever’s show reinvigorates the concert experience November 10, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 10:17 pm
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I discovered Stringfever on YouTube and on Monday 8 November went to see their show at Epsom Playhouse Theatre.

While the audience mainly consisted of the mature middle-class, there was a notable scattering of ‘young’ people: either teenagers coming with their parents or young professionals coming in groups of friends. I counted roughly 20 ‘young’ people out of an audience of around 300. Their manager Trevor Eyles emphasised the band’s broad appeal as they perform in venues from retirement homes to colleges.

I was struck by the slick nature of the show. The fact that they tour with the same programme has enabled them to produce a highly polished performance, particularly in regards to stage presence. The repertoire was confidently memorised which in turn meant that they were able to play out to the audience with an assortment of facial expressions and stage antics. Though the shiny suits and patent black shoes are not to my taste, their matching outfits turned the performance in a show with all aspects are taken into consideration.

Stringfever also successful communicated with the audience. This was evident in the spoken introductions to the repertoire as well as the musicians’ ability to portray they individual and distinct characters on stage. I think Ralph Broadbent’s dialogues were well balanced between informative and accessible. He introduced the works simply by giving a bit of background information like the piece’s original orchestration and then slowly incorporated any composers’ names or technical terms before giving the full formal name of the composition. I enjoyed how Neal Broadbent helped bridge the music and the dialogue by sustaining a pulse on the cello. Furthermore the false clap was very tactfully dealt with to diffuse any air that it mattered if you clapped in the wrong place.



The Orchestra of the future? October 27, 2010

Filed under: 1B: research,1D: issues — concerttuning @ 1:18 pm
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Southbank Sinfonia is unique in that they are the only full-time, independent Orchestral Academy currently in existence, but it is their open-mindedness that really bowled me over when I met their Chief Executive, Justin Lee.

They are actively paving the way into the future. Not only are they prepared to re-evaluate the role of the orchestra in the 21st century, but they are equipping their players with the ability to survive the modern music market. Justin Lee explained that their aim is not only to generate creative people who are passionate about music, but crucially to develop musicians with the means to communicate this. Consequently, they are trained in public speaking and are expected to talk to the audience at concerts.

The organisation is not tied to the rigidity or risk of a concert series. This gives them the flexibility to explore alternative avenues and take artistic risks, ensuring that there is still a role for the orchestral musician in 20 years time. Prepared to look beyond the autonomy of classical music, Justin Lee relishes the opportunity to collaborate in cross-art performances. This comes from his passion to reveal connections. Classical music is not chronological or closed to the world, though many a conventional concert typically portrays it as such.  Instead, through his programming he hopes to weave musical connections across time or use other art forms to shed light on the music. If they had a niche it’s their use of movement. For example, the musical mirroring in a Bach Canon was demonstrated in concert by two players physically imitating the direction of their musical subjects.



My ideal concert at 8pm on Monday 25 October October 25, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 7:54 pm
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I can envision a concert that I would be proud to promote. The idea came when I was reading an article in es magazine about how art exhibitions moved out of white space into warehouses and factories.

The concert would be held on the top floor of an old factory with brick walls and structural supports jutting out into the room. Around the room would be a balcony with an iron hand rail where you could overlook the whole space. At the far end of the room would be a large window divided into foot-wide squares with a spectacular panorama of a city.

The venue would double up as an art gallery with a constantly changing selection of art work on display, with some items for sale. Audience members could arrive early for the concert to look at the art work or to buy drinks at the bar/cafe. Between the structural supports would be cosy alcoves lit with ambient lighting where people could intimately talk.

The evening would start dramatically when all the lights were dimmed into near darkness while an intense spotlight marked out a lone artist. The musician would play a short piece from memory of no more than 5 mins. It could be baroque to modern as long as it was captivating. The idea would be to turn heads and draw people in to listen.

After the applause the lights would rise slightly and a presenter for the evening concert would come to the spotlight. He/she would invite people to take a seat around the artist whether a vintage armchair, beanbag or cushion. Drinks would be permitted in the performance area. Alternatively people would be free to wander around the gallery or watch from the balcony above. He/she would open up a dialogue with the artist, discussing the work they just heard and offering the audience an alternative insight. No snobbishness would be allowed and people would be encouraged to speak in normal everyday language. There would be no concert programmes but if an artist chose, they could write in chalk on the walls as well as choosing which art works they wanted to be surrounded by.



Once upon a time – Storytelling course October 17, 2010

I undertook a storytelling course run through the WEA to gain some basic skills in storytelling. The course compromised of four two-hour long evening sessions in Stonleigh.

Working with the workshop leader, Janet Dowling, as well as receiving feedback from the rest of the group allowed me to develop my own storytelling style as well as build experience and confidence.

One of the most useful tools I learnt was how to break down the structure of a story and put it into 8 boxes. Most stories follow this pattern of: initial situation, problem, (preparation for quest), try, try, try, transformation and conclusion. I found this helpful as it made the story easier to remember as well as being a template for any stories that I choose to invent.



Aurora Orchestra: reaching new audiences October 10, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 12:28 pm
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After hearing their family concert at the BBC Proms, I looked up the Aurora Orchestra and read about their Yankee Doodle Concert. I immediately booked tickets as I thought it looked fun, but I realised that once I got to the concert on 9 October I didn’t know which pieces they were playing. This highlights how that managed to market the concert beyond the composers and piece titles.

I thought the concert was fantastic, it received good applause from the audience and it was a different type of concert experience – one firmly in the C21st.

Notably in the audience there were several children. However the ages of the audience ranged from the white haired to young professionals. I heard my neighbours whispering a little throughout the concert and I remember the young girl of around 10 years saying ‘How do you know when it has finished’. Though the concert experience had been made approachable through the film, there was still enough to puzzle a 10 year old about the format of the concert.

The concert featured music around an American theme and several of the pieces had accompanying film footage. I particularly enjoyed the Carnival of the Animals with the variety of the different animations from the students from Central St Martins. They were frequently comical and refreshingly got the audience laughing. Obviously the sketch of Tom and Jerry was also a highlight of the evening. Amusing the pianist representing Tom had a cat tail poking out of his black tie and he comically mimicked the cat’s expressions.