My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Don't leave home without it - performing for your own community

Sometimes the most satisfying performances come without admission fees.

This past weekend, my husband, daughter, and I drove out to Newport News, VA, so that I could accompany a very talented young saxophonist, Greg, at a recital in his hometown.  He has just graduated from Virginia Tech and is about to start a graduate degree in music in Minnesota - a big move for him and especially for his family. When I heard that his mother was having a difficult time with this next step about a month ago, I suggested that we could give a little performance in his hometown.  He took me up on the offer and I am so glad that he did.  

Many of the people in attendance had never heard Greg perform classical music.  Sure he had played at church services now and then through the years, but they were usually hymn arrangements.  And even though he gave recitals at Virginia Tech these last two years, both occurred in the middle of huge snowstorms which made it impossible for most to make the trek to Blacksburg.  The other night, I could feel the excitement in the air prior to the performance.  Folks were so appreciative,  supportive, gracious,  attentive, and so curious - it was infectious and made performing a no-brainer and an absolute joy.  It was also a great reminder to me that I need to keep performing for those around me, for folks that aren't necessarily classical music aficionados, for the people that make up my daily life; that music-making and music itself is a gift to share with everyone; and that I always have an audience with those that are nearest and dearest to me.  It's easy for me to fall into the habit of performing simply because it's the next gig in the calendar.  I need to leave room in that calendar to perform simply because I want to share music with those around me.

Now some of you may know that I am very interested in the debate going on in regards to the future of classical music.  If you don't, let's just say that I am very passionate about finding ways to ensure that classical music is an option when anyone goes searching for a music-making or listening experience.   One of the ideas that gets tossed around is that it's important to not give away musical experiences all the time for free.  I think the thought is that doing that will devalue our art somehow and that people tend to attach more significance to things that they have to pay for.  Here's where I stand; I know that many musicians feel like they can't perform without pay - that's a personal choice that each person must make for him or herself and I am not critical of those that can't since there's so many factors involved with making those decisions.  For me personally, making money or breaking even for every event at which I participate is not a necessity so I often choose to perform for little or no charge at all.  Why?  Because of my mission, because of my concern for the future of classical music.  There are many people that either can't afford or won't go to a concert that they have to pay for, especially if the music being played is not something they are familiar with or is not their first choice in genre.  So if I know that I can play for a room full of these people, some of whom might not claim to like classical music, I usually seize the opportunity.  And yes, sometimes playing performances in one of these settings means playing on a "bad" piano, or an upright (gasp!) or a clavinova (double-gasp!!), or it means playing in a less-than-perfect setting, but in the end does that really matter?  To me, no...the good far outweighs the bad.

Am I sucker?  Perhaps...but suckers are sweet, right?  If me being a sweet sucker attracts a few new ears to listen to some classical music, than it's worth it to me.

If you liked this blog post, you might also like:
A no-budget idea for making classical music more accessible to more people

Putting classical music in its place

It takes more than individuality to keep the arts alive


  1. Hi Erica,

    The musical reality in my country is so different from what I gather it is in yours that I cannot even decide whether I agree or disagree with your view!
    I assume from what you say that normally musicians get paid for their concerts/recitals. Let me tell you what’s going on in Greece: not only do musicians normally not get paid to perform but sometimes they have to pay in order to perform! There are so few opportunities/concert halls and so many musicians who wish to play, that one feels grateful if such an opportunity appears even if one has to pay for it. For instance, at my last concert, I played in a nice concert hall and in order to be accepted I had to pay 100 Euros. In other places, the fee is higher. No tickets of course! It’s a shame, I put so much effort into preparing a program, hundreds of hours of practicing (you know what I mean) and there is no financial outcome out of this. I am not greedy and certainly I do not regret doing it, but on the other hand, I have three little children, my rent etc… For how long will I be able to do that, I wonder…
    So in Greece, the effort one should make would rather be to ensure that all musicians should get paid to perform – simply because the prevailing feeling is that they shouldn’t…
    Anyway, it was consoling to find out that in the US things are different…
    Have a lovely day…

  2. Thank you for your comments, Christos and it does indeed sound like the situation is much different here in the US! I'm sorry to hear about the performing situation in Greece but it is a good reminder for me to not take for granted what I have here. For most larger venues, such as recital/concert halls we do have to pay a fee if we want to rent the hall but there are usually places within the community that are willing to let you play there for free. Granted, the free places are not usually often means not having a great piano to play on (if there even is one) or playing on an out-of-tune one, but at least it's a place to perform.

    And please don't misunderstand me...I'm not suggesting that musicians should always pay for free. For many of us, music is our career, our livelihood...I am just sharing my goal to perform every now and then as a form of community service and as a way to reach some new listeners.

    Thank you again for your comments...I wish you all the best in Greece and hope that a better, more fulfilling performing space will present itself.


  3. Janet K BordeauxMay 19, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Wow, Christos, that's amazing! What a different approach to music! It is nice to be able to earn from our talents, but one thing I thought is how nice it is for your audiences to have live music accessible. I would love to go to more concerts, but with the $35 US and higher price tag, it's just not in my budget, not if I want to take my husband, or the kids!

    Erica, as always, I find your blog posts interesting and filled with incite. How wonderful for your young friend that his community wanted to come and hear him perform. Out here in crazy-busy California, it can be a challenge to get even good friends to take the time to come and sit and listen. I am preparing what would be equivalent to a college recital for June, 2013, and I am already wondering if anyone will come..well, I know of 5 or 6 I can count least I don't need to rent a big hall!

    1. Janet,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment! It's always so hard, I think, to know how much to charge for concerts and of course it depends on the context, the performers, and the motivations. But I find myself in much the same spot as you do. With a family and a kid, the thought of us all going to an event that costs $35 each, or even just myself, quite frankly doesn't seem very do-able even though I'd love to be taking in more musical and cultural events. At the same time I know there are a lot of people out there that are more than willing to lay down a lot more than that for a sporting event or a concert. But those are what I consider "spectacular" events in the sense that they are truly spectacles.

      Right now, at least for my own performing, I am finding myself doing more and more of these lower-cost, if not free performances in our own community. The result is that I'm being asked to do more gigs that actually do pay something. In building relationships, I feel like I'm building respect from those around me for what I do so the work is increasing, even though the paycheck for each one isn't necessarily grand.

      As for your recital, you have quite a while before it happens - that gives you a lot of time to build relationships that might lead to a supportive audience for you!

      All the best, Janet - I look forward to following your journey leading up to your recital!

      And thanks again for reading and commenting,