Classic Jabber Episode 22 “Playfulness”

Classic Jabber
May 3rd, 2019

Have you noticed that some people are show more playfulness than others, but we seem to find people who are playful more attractive than those who are not! Why is that, and how do classical musicians come across in society? Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.


Providing Context and Relevance in the Performance of Classical Music

Classical musicians are often accused of playing nothing but dead white men’s music. And though it’s true that much of the repertoire that appears in classical music programs were written by white men who are now dead, what these critics are getting at is something deeper. What they mean is that classical music feels irrelevant to their lives.

Context and Classical Music

Understanding the context in which a certain piece of music was written completely changes the experience of hearing that music. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was written to address a very specific set of circumstances in his time. Wagner’s Ring Cycle was very political in nature, Mahler had a particular purpose, a specific idea behind every single one of his symphonies. You can listen to a Mahler symphony and think it’s a great piece of music, but when you read the story behind it – when you understand the motivation – you have a much different, more profound experience of the piece.

Casual classical music listeners lack that context. People used to be very knowledgeable about classical music, but today, due to diminishing music education (and art education in general) the majority of the population is almost entirely ignorant about the lives and motivations of classical composers. Without context, of course, the music of dead white men feels irrelevant!

To address this criticism, many organizations have taken to intentionally programming music by living composers and under-represented groups. Unfortunately, without the name recognition enjoyed by the most famous composers, these contemporary programs often have even less to recommend them to audiences largely unfamiliar with classical music. For highly knowledgeable audiences, who’ve often developed strong opinions about various contemporary composers, these programs can even be off-putting.

What’s to be done then?

Perhaps sneak in a contemporary piece? Unadvertised and unannounced? For that matter, why tell the audience what you are going to play at all? How many people attend a classical music performance with no idea of what’s being performed? Not many. Why not?

Because they have no idea what they’re signing up for. 

On the other hand, how many times have you been provided a set list by a non-classical performer? Rarely, if ever. Yet, people still show up to watch Adele and Sting without any idea of which songs they are going to hear. Why does it work for popular musicians and not classical musicians?

It works because those popular music audiences are showing up for an experience. They may not know exactly what they’ll be listening to, but they know they are going to have a good time, they are going to be moved in one way or another, even if it’s just moved to dance.

As classical performers, we must make sure our audiences have the same expectation. We must instill confidence that regardless of the particulars, our listeners can anticipate a specific experience so that our name or the name of our ensemble is associated with a particular feeling. Feeling is always relevant.

Many orchestras are already on board. They offer different series, designed to provide different audiences with varying, but predictable experiences of music. The Florida Orchestra has a Masterworks Series featuring programming by the great classical composers, a Movie Series presenting the music of Harry Potter and other hits, and a Pops series. These three series offer three entirely different experiences while giving audience members a very good idea of what experience to expect.

A question often arises when thinking of programming like this: how much cross-over should we expect between audiences? Can we lure people into more “serious” programming by enticing them with something lighter or more familiar?

This question misses the point.

Every time you show up, perform, and your audience comes away better for the experience, you’ve done your job. You’ve succeeded. This holds true regardless of whether you played pieces by Mahler, Charlotte Bray, or John Williams. Create an experience relevant to your audience’s lives, and you make classical music relevant for all.  

If you would like to hear the live discussion about this topic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

Get more from a live event

If you are still trying to build a profitable performing career, then practicing more won’t cut it. You might have a fair idea of what steps to take, but you might also still have a few holes, or you are still following the pack and doing everything the old way – the way that doesn’t work anymore. A intense live in-person training is a very effective way to bridge your knowledge gap. Let me know what you want to learn next and I will tailor a specific program that will undoubtedly help! Take this survey today:

Classic Jabber Podcast Episode 20 “Intelligence”

Classic Jabber
May 3, 2019

Have you noticed that some people show more intelligence than others, but we seem to find people who show intelligence as more attractive than those who do not! Why is that, and how do classical musicians come across in society? Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.

How To Be a Compassionate Classical Performer

Compassion is empathy in action. It’s about more than appreciating how others are feeling. It’s the sympathetic understanding of other people’s distress, coupled with a real desire to alleviate it. Compassion is an extremely attractive personal trait and a valuable social skill with a myriad of applications in the professional life of a classical performer.

Compassion - A Characteristic of Attractiveness

Compassion for your audience

Music is the language of emotion, and since compassion deals with emotion, we might assume that being a compassionate musician means trying to connect with and help our audience. That’s certainly a part of it. Music can be very cathartic. The right piece at the right time allows listeners to tap into strong feelings and process them without having to experience the situations that might ordinarily elicit those feelings directly.

Of course, we should be compassionate toward our audience! The trick is – unless you are playing to an audience of one, your listeners are bound to have all sorts of different things going on their lives – a wide variety of distress and joy – and you most often will have no idea what those things are, let alone how you might help. So, while compassion is a great goal when performing, it’s rather difficult to put into action.

Compassion for your colleagues

It’s easier to imagine how we can treat our fellow players with compassion. After all, we’re together in the same boat. Once you’ve been around the block a few times, you develop a deep sympathy for people new to the scene. Their struggles are familiar. You remember how hard it was, and you truly want to help.

And you should help. It’s only right that those at the top offer a hand to those coming up behind. But, there is such a thing as too much help.

If there is something you can do to make this journey a little easier on a fellow musician, by all means, do it. But remember, it’s the struggle, not the success that makes us stronger. If you help too much just because watching someone else struggle is uncomfortable for you, you aren’t doing anyone any favors. You’re merely alleviating your own distress.

Sometimes we “help” people who don’t actually need our help just so we can leave our own mark, or make sure something is done “right.” As Anne Lammott says, “Help is the sunny side of control.” If you’re guilty of this kind of helping, it’s time to get honest and realize that your help has absolutely nothing to do with compassion.

Compassion for the person signing your check

Perhaps the hardest (and most important) place to practice compassion is in your negotiations with venues and presenters.

When we’re trying to book gigs, it’s easy to take a “no” as a personal affront. We feel rejected, and it raises our defenses. But very often, the people making the decisions have strict parameters they have to meet. They must make hard decisions, and they’re often limited by things outside of their control.

For example, if you are trying to program performances in a national chain, the person you consider to be the decision maker is usually answerable to a faceless corporate office somewhere. They have a job to do, and like the rest of us, they are simply trying to do the best job they can. Though you may be flexible and see the opportunities in a given situation, many times the people you’re dealing with don’t have the same kind of flexibility.

No one likes to say no. Most decent people want to include as many others as possible (and most people are decent). Show some compassion for the situation the people you are working with find themselves in – help solve problems if possible. If there’s no way to help overcome the hurdles, be gracious. Even if you can’t book a gig now, a compassionate response makes you likable and memorable. You become the go-to when they have an opportunity that does fit.

Ultimately, the music business is a business of relationships. Compassionate people are the kind of people that audiences, players, and presenters want to be in relationship with.

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

Why Are Classical Music Audiences Old, and Should We Care?

There is a lot of talk these days about the advancing age of classical music audiences. In truth, this conversation has been happening for quite some time. We’ve been hearing about it lately, but we’ve been talking about it for the last thirty years or so.

We thought we’d take a look at this stereotype and address a few pertinent questions: Is it true? (Yes) Why? (Many reasons) Does it matter? (Depends) Is there anything we should do about it? (Absolutely! The same things you should be doing for all of your audiences, regardless of age)

Compassion - A Characteristic of Attractiveness

Why are classical music audiences old?

Classical music has always attracted a more mature audience. Sure, when you look out from the stage you’ll see a handful of children and young adults, but statistically speaking, 42% of classical music concertgoers are 41-60, and 37% are 61 and over. These statistics have led to some panicky discussions about the future of live classical music, the often unspoken subtext being that the audience is literally dying out.

This is hooey, to use a technical term.

Yes, audiences are getting older, but the general population is also getting older. People are living longer and remaining active long past the life expectancy of 50 years ago. This means that people that enjoyed classical music in their 30s and 40s are still attending concerts into their 60s, 70s, and 80s. The longevity of our audience is hardly something to bemoan.

So, the real question is not, why are classical music audiences old, but rather, why don’t more young people attend classical concerts?

Time and taste

Retired people have more time to attend cultural events in general. Young people, say those in their 20s and 30s, are in the midst of building careers and raising families. When they finally get home from work, the idea of heading back out, fighting for parking, and sitting to listen to a concert just seems exhausting. If there are children involved, finding a sitter, or hoping for good behavior during a quiet performance can be overwhelming.

By the time people reach their mid-forties, many have already established their careers and have older children that no longer require sitters. By retirement, the day is wide open. It’s no wonder that these people show up to classical concerts more often.

Of course, younger people do go out. They do attend concerts, just usually not classical performances. Why is that?

The first reason is utterly subjective. As we age, our tastes and priorities change. Who knows why, but classical music seems to become more appealing the older we get. Even Sting, made famous as a young man in the rock band, The Police, has become progressively more interested in classical music. A recent album features a 42-piece orchestra and traditional British tunes.

Perhaps older people have simply had more exposure to classical music. Perhaps loud music and light shows just become less appealing as we age, making this year’s top rock concert easy to skip.

Or, maybe it’s about community. (It is)

Creating experiences and finding a tribe: the surefire way to reach an audience of any age

Attending any live event, classical or otherwise, requires a substantial amount of effort. Why should anyone bother? If it’s all about the music, why not just stay home and listen to recordings?

It isn’t all about the music.

It’s about the experience.

Many of us have shelled out cash to go to a show we weren’t particularly interested in simply because our friends were going. We went for the community, the dancing, the food, the drinks. We went because it offered us what we needed at the time– a tribe to belong to and a way to relax.

When we put classical concerts on a pedestal by demanding that they be all about the music (and our stellar, virtuosic performance) we are overlooking our audience and what they actually need. You are a wonderful performer, that’s a given, but if you want to develop and retain an audience (of any age) you need to become a wonderful programmer as well.

Classical performances of well-loved pieces from the 18th and 19th century given in a quiet recital hall are lovely. They definitely have their place and serve their purpose. But when you consider the needs those concerts fulfill (quiet, calm, enlightenment, and sheer beauty), you can also recognize the audience that is seeking to have those needs fulfilled – namely an older audience.

If you want to attract a younger audience (and no one says you need to), you must figure out how to design a program to meet the needs of those younger people. How can you make the experience most enjoyable?

If you’re looking for an audience in their 20s and 30s consider this:

Book a room in a trendy area or a location near where people work. Look for a venue with an onsite bartender and snacks. Consider doing several short sets that allow the audience plenty of time to grab refreshments and socialize. Choose music by living composers, or favorites from the 20th century. 

Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. If you want a different audience, do something different.

Classical music audiences tend to be loyal. They come back year after year – of course they are aging. That’s to be celebrated!

Spend more time making your audience’s investment in you worth their while by crafting delightful experiences and less time worrying about your audience’s longevity, and you’ll find yourself with a thriving fan base and a long-lived career.

If you would like to hear SPB in discussion with his friends and fellow musicians regarding this topic, head to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

Classic Jabber Podcast Episode 18 “Compassion”

Classic Jabber
May 3, 2019

Some people are more compassionate than others, but we seem to find people who are more compassionate as more attractive than those who are not! Why is that, and how do classical musicians come across in society? Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.