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Learning about audience participation in the orchestra

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Learning about audience participation in the orchestra

Contemporary symphony orchestras face many challenges: budget cuts, ageing audiences, and stagnating visits to name a few. As a response, many orchestras are experimenting with ways to innovate and improve the quality of audience participation. But how do you meaningfully involve audiences in the orchestra?

Involving audiences in the practice of the orchestra can be challenging. When you start rethinking and experimenting with audiences, many other elements of the orchestra-as-machine start to squeak and grind. To experiment with involving audiences in the orchestra therefore brings you to themes such as artistic quality, sharing artistic responsibilities and collaboration, ideas about musicianship, imagined audiences, and forms of evaluation.

This website provides musicians, orchestral staff, researchers and innovaters in the field of classical music with exercises and examples for experimenting with audience participation. These exercises (or etudes) are aimed at all who are involved with organising, performing, and evaluating classical music concerts: musicians, artistic programmers, marketeers, educators, producers, innovators, and researchers.

To navigate this website, choose a role or character below. You can also browse by theme.

THEME
EVALUATION AND ARTISTIC QUALITY

Musicians and staff are trained and specialized to organize and perform classical music of high-level artistic quality. Criteria used for evaluating concerts are ingrained in the concert practice. Traditional criteria for evaluating artistic quality include (amongst others) fidelity to the score, faithfulness to the composer’s intent, and aesthetic refinement. However, audiences sometimes use different criteria, such as accessibility and recognizability of the program, the bodily performance of musicians, or decoration of the stage. These different criteria of artistic quality can clash and shift. When experimenting with audience participation, even new artistic criteria can emerge. How to assess experimental or participatory concerts?

This theme provides etudes for learning to evaluate, for broadening the scope of artistic criteria, and for developing or tracking new artistic criteria when experimenting audience participation.

Learning aim
What comes to count as a good concert? When, how, and by whom?

Etude: Learning to evaluate

Etude: Learning to evaluate

Learn to map and improve existing forms of evaluations within the orchestra

Etude: Broadening the scope of evaluations

Etude: Broadening the scope of evaluations

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Etude: Developing new criteria for assessing experimental or participatory concerts

Etude: Developing new criteria for assessing experimental or participatory concerts

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Etude: Learning to evaluate

Make an inventory of the existing ways and forms of evaluation within the organization of the orchestra. How are concerts evaluated by musicians, the programming committee, in the marketing department? Look at formal moments of evaluation within the organization of the orchestra (i.e. forms, surveys, evaluative meetings), but also look at informal moments: talks among musicians after concerts, during rehearsals, in the hallways. What (implicit) criteria are used to assess concerts in these formal and informal moments of evaluation? Compare the different ways of evaluation and discuss them with a small group of musicians and staff. Discuss how these evaluation forms relate to each other, and how they can be aligned. Ask the following questions: What is it that these forms evaluate? What criteria for a successful concert do we use, and how do they differ between different departments? When do these evaluations take place in our organisation, only after a concert or also in the process of organizing a concert? And what is done afterwards with the evaluations, what effects do they have for the organization of a concert?

Examples

Further reading

Tags

THEME
IMAGINED AUDIENCES

Where is your audience? The audience of the orchestra is not only present in the concert hall. Audiences also exists in the minds and actions of musicians and staff of the orchestra. When performing, when programming, or when communicating concerts: the imagined audience plays a constitutive role in making decisions by musicians and staff of what to do and why. Often, audiences are imagined in typical roles: the listener in the concert hall, the consumer who needs to buy a ticket, the amateur who has no expert knowledge of music. All these imagined roles can co-exist in the process of organizing, performing, and evaluating concerts. How do different people and departments within the orchestra imagine an ideal audience? How do these imaginaries shift when organizing a concert? And what happens if we imagine the audience differently in this process?

This theme provides etudes for learning to become aware of how an imagined audience is present in the current organization of the orchestra. After having an idea of how audiences are imagined in the orchestra, you can learn to imagine them differently.

Learning aim
Where, how and by whom are audiences imagined in the orchestra? And how can we imagine them differently?

Etude: Mapping imagined audiences

Etude: Mapping imagined audiences

Learn to map how the audience is imagined by musicians and staff

Etude: The Audience as Citizen

Etude: The Audience as Citizen

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Etude: The Audience as Co-creator

Etude: The Audience as Co-creator

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Etude: The Audience as Expert

Etude: The Audience as Expert

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Etude: Mapping imagined audiences

During the organization of a concert – spanning programming, producing, marketing and performing a concert – pay explicit attention to the ways the audience is implicated in the decision-making process. You can do this by asking questions to yourself and to your colleagues in meetings and rehearsals:

  1. What is the image of the audience that we envision here? What do we assume that this audience wants or needs?
  2. What does this image of the audience allow us to do, and what not?
  3. To what extent does this image of the audience change or shift during the process?

Examples

Mahler am Tisch – experiment
La Grande Bouffe – fieldwork

Further reading

Van de Werff, T. Eve, I. & Spronck, V. (forthcoming) Experiments in Participation: performing audiences in the symphony orchestra practice. In Dromey, Chris (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Applied Musicology. London: Routledge.

Litt, Eden. ‘Knock, Knock. Who’s there? The Imagined Audience’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56/3 (2012), 330–345.

Tags

imagined audiences – audience roles – therapeutic learning