31. May 2011 · 5 comments · Categories: Ramble

When you meet someone in a coffee-shop and say you’re a classical musician,” she observes, “they may say, ‘I love it, but I never go to concerts.’ People today don’t necessarily know what to do with classical music. And I believe that’s because of the way it’s usually presented in concert venues.”
This unhappy situation, Jacobson points out, is the polar opposite of the way things used to be.
“A few hundred years ago, chamber music was made by friends getting together in someone’s home, or a tavern, for a fun, informal evening. For me, the purpose of Classical Revolution is to go back to that ideal but with a modern twist.”

I read it here.

I fight change. I admit it. I don’t feel comfortable changing my schedule. I don’t like changing my hairstyle (Heh … what style?!). I’m sort of a control freak, I like consistency, and I am not usually up for surprises. And I have a confession to make …

I am uptight about the younger musicians telling us we are doing it all wrong. I’m annoyed with a few older folks too (for there are some) who tell us that we are idiots for continuing to do what we do. They love to tell us that the symphony is dying, and seem to take glee in every orchestra’s death or financial crisis.

Yep. now I’ve said it. I’m sure everyone else already figured that out, but I’ve never openly stated it.

I see it a lot on Twitter. I read it a lot in blogs. And, truth be told, it sometimes ticks me off.

Many have implied that we older folks are out of it, stupid, and should disappear so they can repair what they think we’ve created in the field of classical music. Some suggest we should step down because we are old and they deserve a chance. I’ve also read that they think we treat them with disdain or disregard, that we have put them in a box and said that they act entitled. (Having taught for nine years at the university level I can say that many do act entitled, but it could be that university students have always seen themselves that way and I’m only now seeing it because I began teaching at the uni only nine years ago!) I offer a free lesson sometimes to those who read my blog, and I offer a free lesson to students thinking about attending UCSC. Rarely do students act as if I’ve done anything generous and rarely have I received a thank you for doing so. Some even come back, thinking they are entitled to more free lessons. Again, this may be a behavior that has existed forever; I could easily have been unaware of it before. It’s quite possible I act the same way and don’t see it in myself. Ack! I tend to do that — to criticize someone for a something when I could actually be describing myself!

So grumble grumble, I start sounding my age and I appear to be a grumpy old girl.

Still, I’m just being honest here. If there’s one thing I want this blog to be, it’s honest.

BUT — and yes, there’s always that, right? — there are some truths they tell and change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’m all for breaking down the wall between the performer and the listener when the listener wants that! I say that because some listeners really do want the formality of the event and that’s okay too. I think we can have both. I’m all for being more casual in dress when appropriate. I’m even for letting folks clap when they are excited about something as long as those who have paid for the event are in agreement about that.

Oh … but wait! I just wrote “those who have paid for the event,” didn’t I?

And there’s one of the issues that does cause me to stop and ponder.

Classical Revolution events are free, if what I’m reading is correct.

So are we moving into “play for free and get a real job!” mentality, as so many, both old and young, outside of our profession frequently have suggested? Is this our future, and is it already here? Because what I’m seeing with so many of these kinds of events is that either they are free or the pay is so low it only covers parking and/or transportation costs. I have played for free, and will continue to do so, but if that’s expected all of the time my career becomes a hobby and I’m out of work.

Or are these free concerts causing these new listeners to embrace classical, causing them then to attend concerts they have to pay for and, if that’s part of the idea, is it working?

Just so you know, I’m really just spitting these thoughts out, as I try to look at things from a bunch of different angles. (Please do excuse this crazy ramble!) I’m trying to see both sides as much as possible.

I like seeing younger people attending musical events. I especially like it when they also listen at the musical events — some say “I went to see a concert,” and I want to say, “Yes, but did you listen, too?” I know we need to change things up sometimes. But I don’t want to lower the quality of what we do. Quite frankly, I don’t want to play oboe as a hobby, either. Yes. I mean it. I want to earn a living with what I do. I think I do it well enough for that. I don’t ask to live extravagantly. I just want to be able to put food on the table and clothes on my back, and maybe take a vacation now and then. Okay, and my dream is that I see Europe before I die. Is that asking too much? Maybe so. I’ve been to England and Scotland, but I dream of getting to Germany to see my brother and family. I dream of Italy.

Dear oh dear this is one crazy pattyramble™ and it’s probably sounding insane. Maybe I’ll come back, read this, and decide it’s too silly to keep up on the blog. Maybe not. We’ll see. Or maybe a younger musician will pop in and tell me I’m full of it. Dunno.


  1. Hey Patti,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and honest response. I agree with your thoughts, Symphonies are essential to preserving the tradition of classical music! I think the purpose of classical rev is not to sacrifice musical integrity, simply to provide a setting for musicians to interact directly with their audiences to build relationships. Here is a link to a clip from the concert, I hope you enjoy. I also think that providing the occasional free concert can do wonders for audience building and developing loyal listeners. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPizeufGcQM

  2. Hi Tracy! You might not remember me, but we met, quite briefly, at your Windsync concert at Stanford. 🙂

    I puzzle over this constantly, and have for a while. When I’ve handed out free tickets, people don’t always show up. So does doing something for free tell people that it’s worth … well … nothing? I do wonder about that. Or is it generational? I do notice that the majority of my university students these past nine years think they shouldn’t really have to pay for much; sheet music, recordings, videos … you name it, they think it should all be free. So is that part of the issue? (I do wonder, then, how these music majors expect to make a living, but perhaps they don’t plan on doing so with music.)

    At the same time I want to see a younger audience, of course.

    And then there’s the “the younger audience simply doesn’t have the money or time” thing and it could be that they will eventually join in, after they are established and able to afford things like this.

    As you can see, I really do go back & forth. I don’t think there are any easy answers. I don’t think the “old way” is going to satisfy everyone, nor do I think the concert in the bar is going to be what some will want. (I prefer total silence when I’m at a concert … I’ve decided I should attend concerts all alone … no audience members at all besides me. Hah!)

    Okay … more rambling from me. More fun than working on oboe reeds, so there you go! 🙂

  3. Although the “concerts” are mostly (not always) free for the audience, the musicians are almost always paid.
    This comes from a percentage of the bar take and donations from the crowd.
    This usually turns in a few hundred bucks per session which we divide.
    We find that the audience is often very generous in exchange for the offering of free live chamber music.
    When we do shows with a cover charge we try to give each musician at least $100 each for performing.
    For the performance that was described in the article you linked, each group that played made $200.
    It’s less than a high society gig, but we are able to do it on our own terms for our friends which is invaluable for our own personal relationships with music.
    It’s true – the concert hall is not for everyone and the bar venue is not for everyone – but if we both work as hard as we can on what we’re interested in, we’re putting music out there, which I believe is never a bad thing.
    About music majors not making a living – there are so few jobs out there right now and music schools keep turning out graduates – these people need SOMEwhere to play.
    We have to be creative and find opportunities to play the music we love.
    I’m not adverse to the concert hall either.
    I’ve played in orchestras all over the Bay Area, recently in San Jose Chamber Orchestra, also as principal viola of Berkeley for a year.
    I do those jobs for money.
    Classical Revolution is what I do for my own personal musical satisfaction.
    We’ve had around 600 different musicians play at our events in the Bay Area alone, and thousands more worldwide so it seems that musicians are into it.
    Most of them are young yes, but I figure it’s because those are the musicians whom we know best and are also more interested in music as a fun social activity as opposed to a job.
    I’m interested to hear your response.

  4. Also, by playing for free in places, we’ve been offered spots in concert series, such as the monthly we’ve held at the Legion of Honor in SF for the past 3 years (which is a paid gig), and we get journalists to write about us in the NY Times, Houston Chronicle, etc which spreads the word about Classical Rev and classical music in general.
    Please know that the main reason we are doing this is because we love the music and we want to share the experience of live chamber music with as many people as possible.

  5. I hope you know, Charith, that I’m just puzzling over things! Not dissing what you do.

    Gee … have we worked together? I haven’t done SJCO in a bit, but I’m in Symphony Silicon Valley and Opera San José, so if you’ve subbed there we’ve at least been on the same stage or in the same pit.

    I’m glad to hear that you have managed to get jobs out of what you are doing. It’s always great to see that younger musicians are making a living at this wacky business! I started in 1974, and things were SO much easier then in some ways. These days we have a lot more musicians and a lot fewer jobs.

    So does CR ever do anything in San Jose?