A Composer's Adventures

Making Small Concerts Pay

Small ConcertIn my last blog I talked about the power of intimate concerts in small venues. But I wonder how musicians can make a living doing that. A solid chamber music career is hard to come by, unless you’re the Kronos Quartet. Legendary sax player Lee Konitz surprised me by saying he has to travel outside New York on gigs to pay the bills.

But I think there are ways for dedicated chamber musicians to boost their income. For one thing, private house concerts can charge at the door. I imagine an ambitious group of musicians could form an alliance offering regular house concerts for pay, which in fact some are already doing.

Further out of the box, I know of nightclubs on Dover Street in London hosting classical gigs. I attended one myself at a Toronto venue called the Bovine Sex Club on Queen Street. The audience was pierced and tattooed and dressed in lots of leather. Looking at the crowded room, I expected a lot of talking and bar noise, but people were transfixed by Haiou Zhang — dressed in red from top to toe — as he played Haydn, Mozart and Schubert on a rented piano. It was definitely high art in an unlikely place, because Zhang later appeared as soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Of course subsidies from private and public sources would help tremendously, especially for small venues that bring in limited gate revenue. We could also use a Steve Jobs-type entrepreneur in music who would invent ways to make small venues pay for themselves. Perhaps if we all start thinking about it and want it badly enough, ideas will start spreading and new solutions will appear. Or we could dig a little deeper in our pockets for tickets.

A great idea I read about was having musicians play for patients in a veteran’s hospital in Fresno. A psychiatrist there said patients are much calmer after listening to classical music: “When we have live music, they come to me far more relaxed. It’s like an amazing miracle.”

Of course we know that music therapy has been helping patients with autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and victims of brain trauma who lost their ability to speak. I’m sure music also serves as great preventative medicine for the mind and body. As more and more is discovered about the powers of music, it might take the place of the old advice — “Take an Aspirin and go to bed” — and turn into, “Take a Schubert song and go to bed.”

Here is a good read on this topic:

Michael Colgrass

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