My name is Erica Kremer, and I am a rising senior cello performance major here at FSU.As someone who has always studied and been around music, I have never experienced not knowing everything about a music performance I was watching. Every concert I have been in the audience for, I either knew the pieces being performed, the history behind the composer, or some of the performers. Most of my friends and peers also have had the same experience, and I grew up with this being the norm. This gave me a skewed perspective on what is to be expected both of an audience and of the performers. I believed that if most of the audience already knew about the pieces and composers being performed, there was no need for the performers to do anything more than play the music. As far as I was aware, audience engagement went as far as the performers walking onto stage, bowing, and the audience applauding.
My first experience with having to engage an audience was my freshman year at FSU, when my string quartet played in a retirement community. When we walked onto stage, we were instructed to take the microphone, and take turns sharing our names, where we were from, what our major was, and how old we were. Though this may not seem like much, I was surprised at how hard it was for me to do. Being able to have good stage presence and organizing your thoughts on the spot in front of people was not anything I had a lot of experience doing. I realized that this was because I had never been taught this in school. As performance majors, all our focus in our studies is on practicing, and taking history and theory classes. Consequently, we spend most of our time in the practice rooms by ourselves. We get no experience talking to an audience that may not be fully educated about the music we are playing, or how to program/organize concerts for people in the community. It is ironic, because these are the things we have to know to be successful once we graduate college.
In order to be successful musicians in the music world, we have to be able to make people want to go to our concerts, and be willing to support us. We do this by gaining a following, and being accessible to as many people as possible. It is this sentiment that I shared with my two colleagues Carly Fulcher and Matthew Holzaepfel. We realized that the main holes in our music experience at FSU was being able to organize our own concerts, learning how to interact with different audiences, and making classical music accessible to every community. Because of how much practicing, theory, and history are emphasized in our curriculum, we don’t have the time or resources to learn these engagement and organizational skills.
With our grant, we are hoping to use the summer and next school year to create a curriculum and guide for students on these skills. We will do extensive research on audience engagement and interaction, and create a pilot group of like minded musicians over the summer. This group will be trained in audience engagement and concert/program organization. They will be trained by Carly, Matthew, and myself on what we are able to learn from books, as well as by famous chamber groups and musicians we will try to organize zoom calls with. They will also bebroken up into various internal chamber groups, and rehearse intensively. Our hope is to have many small groups with a variety of repertoire that is trained at a high level in playing as well as audience engagement. Once these groups are trained over the summer, we are hoping to organize in person concerts next school year all over the community that these groups will play at and lead.
Once this program is established, we hope it will be able to grow over the next couple years, and attract many musicians. With the performance opportunities it offers, as well additional information not offered in the school’s core curriculum, we hope we will be able to train a new generation of musicians to share music to many new communities. We will carry these experiences and information with us into our future careers, and hopefully change the face of classical music in popular culture.