In spring of 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in the "Community Performances and Partnerships Program" (CPP for short) at the New England Conservatory. This program aims to connect the conservatory with the Boston community, while encouraging students to develop necessary skills for performing and engaging in a variety of local, community settings. The CPP program pairs performing groups (or individuals) with a local program, depending on the students' interests and the communities' needs. In this manner, both the students and the community benefit (even if only on the most basic level: students gain experience in outreach, audience enjoys pleasant music). Details about the CPP program can be found here.
My interest in CPP developed through a number of means; my roommate (with whom I perform closely) has always been very interested in community outreach, and his fervor encouraged my interest in the concept of outreach, as well as this program. In addition, I have been suffering from a variety of physical problems that have impacted my performance ability, and I wanted to explore some other career options that were still music related, but would allow me to be a functioning, normal human being. Moreover, I have been contemplating ways to make music more accessible to the general public. Music has done a lot for me over the years, and I want to share this with the world.
And so, this particular post develops – it is a little more concrete than my last post, and I hope any readers might find the information contained within to be of some use. While certainly no expert in music outreach, my goal is to share a few tips I learned on how to make a successful outreach program (from a musical perspective, but obviously it can be tailored to suit any other subject area). Most of this information comes directly from Tanya Maggi, who is the director of the CPP program at NEC. I'm sharing her tips (PART I), along with my group's experiences at implementing how it worked (PART II).
TIPS FOR PLANNING AN EFFECTIVE PROGRAM
I think the most important thing is to be really clear about what your program goals are. Are you trying to introduce a specific composer or a genre of music? Are you trying to encourage interest in different instruments? I think many individuals attempt to create outreach programs, but they don't have a "plan of attack" on how to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, simply playing music doesn't mean the audience will understand your intention!
Take into consideration the demographic of your audience. Are you going to an elementary school? A hospital? An assisted living center for senior citizens? Tailor your program to your audience, so that it is appropriate for the situation.
Most importantly, make sure your program is organized! This correlates directly with your program goals. It might seems silly, but plan out who speaks and when, which musical excerpts or pieces you wish to play, and the order of the pieces in the program. Make sure to organize your program in a way that will benefit your audience. If the program is well paced with few gaps, this will engage the audience more effectively.
Connect with the audience and include their participation!! I think this is a really great way to encourage an interest in music. Often, concerts are a very formal experience, and it is difficult for new audiences to develop an interest in music if they don't know what to listen for! Depending on the age group, this could include a Q&A session, games, teaching complex rhythms, or maybe even teaching a recurring melodic theme and requiring them to listen for it during the performance. For older audiences, it is great to talk about yourself and develop a personal connection.
Another important thing is to read the mood of the audience. If they are engaged, you can likely elaborate a certain point further. If they are getting restless or bored, cut something from your program and move on in order to keep the pace interesting. My Dalcroze Eurythmics mentor always tells me that one cannot teach effectively if they do not have the sensitivity to read emotions. I think the same idea applies to any situation that is a "two-way street", the way outreach is.
Most importantly, be sure to have a positive attitude! Even if the audience is not as deeply invested in what you do as you are, passion and excitement is contagious and they will feel excited for you! I have seen many situations where audiences were turned off by the attitude of performing artists. It is good to remind ourselves that everyone wants us to enjoy the music we bring!
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Because children have shorter attention spans than adults do, it is important to keep the program fast paced
Include stories and games to encourage engagement and learning
Choose one or two concepts to teach, and use repetition as a teaching tool!
Aim for a 30 minute program (20 – 25 minutes if they are younger than 5)
This age can handle more intricate concepts; keep the program fast paced, but include longer selections
Use more difficult tasks
The program can be up to 45 minutes long
This is a really trying age (I do feel sorry for my mother for having to go through this twice!), and "fitting in" or "being cool" is important
Find out what is popular with the age group, and try relating classical music with pop music/culture
Treat them as adults. Usually they will rise to the occasion if they are not treated like children
Senior Citizens/Adult Audiences
Incorporate a combination of education and entertainment
Audiences enjoy getting to know you as a person, so take time to talk about yourself and to chat with the audience (intersperse short selections with breaks for talking)
Create a program that combines classical tunes with music they might know
Match the tone of comments and your program to nature of event
Be personable and have fun! Everyone can tell when you just aren’t into it!
Designate an Emcee! This helps to organize the Q & A session, and the Emcee can pass off questions to other members of the group.
Set aside a specific time for questions (particularly for young children). Failing to do so might result in a loss of time, or create a fragmented program.
Repeat any questions that are asked. Not everyone in the audience will be able to hear what is being asked unless you reiterate it.
Be sure to take questions from a variety of ages, genders, and room location. It seems like a minor thing to consider, but you might accidentally come across as thoughtless or biased otherwise.
If someone (usually a child) makes a comment, rather than asks a question, acknowledge their comment and move on.
Be very specific in your answers, unless someone asks how much an instrument costs (which could lead to the impression that you can only pursue music if you have money). If you are vague about this, be sure to inform the audience that it is easy to rent instruments when first starting.
A person very dear to me once encouraged me to view the role of the audience in a very different light. As a young performer, I often forgot how important the audience was, because I was so concerned about presenting reasonably acceptable music, of which my professor would (hopefully) approve. However, the audience plays quite a vital role in our performances, and it is necessary to acknowledge this. Interacting with the audience can be a little hard, or seem forced and awkward at times, but I discovered some ways to help with this.
- First, we should talk to the audience so our performance seems approachable! This creates a receptive climate, which makes both the performers and the audience members comfortable! In addition, audience sizes are shrinking, and funds that are used to subsidize community concerts are being cut right and left, which means it is necessary for musicians to reach out and generate an audience. Lastly, anything that doesn't fall under the category of popular music might seem unapproachable or boring to an unfamiliar ear, and talking can help direct those ears to find something meaningful in what they hear.
- What should you talk about? Talk about yourself, your colleagues, and what drew you to the genre of music you are playing, or the particular piece. Consider what YOU love about the piece (not just why musical institutions have proclaimed what you're playing is great). For example, I love Venezuelan Joropo music because it sounds cute (light in style), it makes me want to dance, and the maracas are considered a virtuosic part (which is so different from our conception of maracas). If I were performing Joropo music, I would like to challenge the audiences' perception of maracas, and maybe even invite them onstage for a "maracas challenge".
- Getting into more specifics about the music...you can talk about the organization of the piece (the form), highlight interesting features (melody, harmony), discuss special effects (vibrato, spiccato, tremolo), or explain programmatic issues. It also might be worth describing the historical context of the period in which the piece was composed, and perhaps sharing facts about the personality of the composer. I did not really understand Piazzolla's nuevo tango style until I stumbled across his biography in the University of Washington's Music Library and discovered what a wild, passionate, and almost grossly aggressive/abrasive person he was.
- Consider what you might say to audiences depending on who they are and what kind of concert presentation it is (what time of day, which age group, formal or informal, etc).
- As cliché as it is, simply be yourself! Your program will be more genuine and you will have more fun this way.
OVERALL GENERAL ADVICE
The most important piece of advice I can give is to create your program while keeping the communities' needs in mind, not just your own. More on this in another post, but community outreach and volunteerism are two-way streets, not a one-way street as it is so often perceived. What you want to do is not necessarily what your audience needs, but with careful consideration and planning, you can absolutely meet both parties' needs.
Don't forget to stay classy, friends! Be professional and have fun!