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Music From the Outside In

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Today’s post was written by our brand new Intern, Keith. A recent graduate of Rice University, Keith is hanging out in our Jones Hall offices and soaking up all he can about working for an arts organization. This time around, he shares his view about engaging new audiences and why it’s important for Orchestras to do so. Keep an eye out for more blog posts from Keith in the coming months!

Here’s one thing they don’t teach you at school: How to build an audience. I recently graduated with my master’s degree in music performance, and I was critiqued and challenged in many ways. But one question was never addressed: “Why put on a performance if nobody comes?”

An average flyer for a school recital reads like this: “Tonight!!! Violin Recital. Hear works by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Reception to follow.” It’s boring, but only because it’s designed to get their friends to stop practicing and come hear a show. It offers nothing more than the promise that there will in fact be free music and food, which is usually good enough for starving students. In the real world, it doesn’t work.

At a time when Orchestras all over the world are trying to grab the attention of new audiences, they do in part still stick to what they know (said flyers, billboards, radio promotions, etc.) My question is: What does that really offer a potential new audience? It seems in this age of entertainment oversaturation, we need to provide something more engaging, more relevant.

Like an increasing number of classical musicians (and music fans in general), I did not grow up listening to classical music. The first CD I bought was the Fugees. I spent more hours dissecting the dizzying wordplay of Mos Def and Talib Kweli than the formal structure of a Beethoven Symphony. When I got a car in high school I promptly installed subwoofers and blasted Kanye West, as opposed to Mahler.

Which brings us to Kanye’s song “Gone”. In it he offers, “Maybe you can be my intern, and in turn, I’ll show you how to cook up summer in the winter.” These words have been ringing in my ears lately as I recently began working at the Houston Symphony as the Digital Media/Marketing Intern. In the spirit of Kanye, I’d like to amend his statement slightly: “Maybe you can be my intern, and in turn, I’ll give you valuable work experience directly related to your interests (and maybe even a job one day).”

Although I nabbed the coveted “close friends and relatives” demographic for my recitals, I rarely thought about how to attract new audiences. Or what audiences really want. Or what motivates people to seek out transformative artistic experiences. But what could be more important for a musician, or arts organization, to know?

Photo Credit: Alessio85

One way Orchestras are engaging new audiences is through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Photo Credit: Alessio85

Luckily, Orchestras have recently been leading the way in terms of reaching out to new fans. While venues like the Poisson Rouge in New York City cater to the hipster/crossover crowd, the Houston Symphony is reaching out to all the music-lovers in Houston.

Taking the music to the people is a great way to get them interested. This summer, the Sounds Like Fun! series had the symphony playing everywhere from churches to high schools. The Symphony Summer Nights Series (try saying that 5 times fast!) takes place at Miller Outdoor Theater, where fans can picnic on the hill while hearing great music. On that note, don’t forget that there are still three more concerts at Miller – including a 4th of July spectacular featuring the Texas Tenors.

Technology is also playing a part. Recent experiments by the Houston Symphony have put the audience in control and given them greater ownership of the experience. Houston’s first-ever “Tweetcert” sent specially written program notes in real time to concertgoers’ smart phones. Another concert let fans pick from a number of encores via text.

It’s been said that if Miles Davis didn’t turn his back on the audience, the Beatles wouldn’t have been able to invade so easily. People may feel that classical music turned its back on them, but it’s encouraging and fulfilling to be a part of an organization that tirelessly seeks out music lovers in new ways.


Written by Houston Symphony

June 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

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Dressing Robert

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Photo credit: Jami Lupold

For today’s blog post, our education department wanted to share something that has become near and dear to our hearts — dressing Associate Conductor Robert Franz in off-the-wall costumes for each of our Weatherford Family Concerts. If you ever wondered how those costumes came to pass, now’s your chance!

After a recent Weatherford Family Concert, Robert Franz encountered a patron in the lobby who remarked, “I can’t believe they make you wear all those crazy costumes!”  To which Robert replied, “Yeah, I know.  Can you believe it?”

If they only knew that under the feathers, beneath the pirate hat, and below the animal fur lay Robert himself – it is all HIS doing.  Believing that family concerts should be as child-centered as possible, Robert’s imagination goes all out to make the theme of the concerts pop.  While he dreams up these wild things, it falls to Carol Wilson, Francine Schiffman Lumia, and Roger Daily to make them go from idea to reality.

Here are a few recent examples of the conductor’s imagination, and the resulting attempts to dress Robert.

In February, Beauty and the Beast — Robert as, guess which one?  A jet black sorceress wig was teased and sprayed into the mane of the Beast. Minutes prior to the conductor/Beast going on stage, black fur was furiously pinned around ankle and wrist cuffs, and out the top of his tuxedo shirt. As the Beast conducted, some fur flew from his wrists, threatening to land on a music stand.

In costume for  Aladdin and the Arabian Nights in April 2009, Robert’s head bore a large chair-cushion of a turban – so big he could barely walk straight, much less conduct.  For the feet, we found long, pointed slippers, which he chose not to wear for fear he wouldn’t be able to ascend the podium!

Pirates of the Symphony – Ahhrrrgg.  In October 2007, Robert and his orchestral mates took a Caribbean journey.  No one had to walk to the plank; in fact most pirates don’t have so many friends.  Our neighbors at the Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet and Alley Theatre supplied most of Robert’s booty, including treasure chests and boats which decorated the stage.  Sword and pistol aside, the crowd went wild as he stepped on stage in his ragged attire, baton pointed to do battle with violists’ bows.

Photo credit: Jami Lupold

May’s Carnival of Animals concert was all about the underdog of the animal kingdom: the chicken! There was talk of building a nest from which Robert would conduct, but instead the podium was converted into a coop with chicken wire and hay.  There were very specific needs for the chicken costume. The feet couldn’t be too big so he could easily move around the podium, the wings had to have exposed hands so he could hold the baton, and the head piece could not cover his entire face, so he could see the entire orchestra. This was a serious matter when trying to find the most comical of costumes and much debate about feathers, etc. ensued.

All went well except for Robert having to spit the feather boa out of his face numerous times during the concerts.  As for the big chicken feet – bigger than the Aladdin shoes – problem solved when Robert jumped on the “coop” podium with both feet.

Make sure to join us next season for the Weatherford Family Concert Series. Ghostbuster? Snowman? Lion? Astronaut? Who knows what Robert will dress up as next! Visit us online at for more information.

Written by Houston Symphony

May 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Swoon with the Symphony

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Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be complete without the ultimate music playlist, now would it? We’ve put together a short list of some romantic melodies to get your heart racing, and the best part is that you’ll be able to see these all performed live by your Houston Symphony, this season or next!

Happy Valentine’s Day from everyone here at Houston Symphony!

Written by Melissa S.

February 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized