I wanted to take a moment to share an event I was a part of recently. It is called Sounds Around Town and it programs free concerts by University of South Carolina music students all around Columbia, SC.
The event is equal parts inspired by the idea of public art and a reaction against the standard concert format. This year concerts occurred in 4 locations: in the courtyard in front of the Columbia Museum of Art, in a high-traffic area of UofSC’s campus, in the center of one of our downtown areas called “5 Points”, and at our local Whole Foods. This way, we cater not only to audiences who come out specifically for the music but also to the casual passerby.
More than 75% of the audience for the event consist of people who were not planning on hearing a concert that day. Some stop for a while, some offer us money (which we kindly don’t take), and some seemingly pay no attention at all. But all of these are fine with us! The concerts are more like installations because viewers (listeners) are free to enjoy it in their own way.
The audience can stay for 1 minute, 5 minutes, a whole performance, or the 10-hour duration of the event if they want. They can leave, eat, drink their coffee, check their phone, take pictures and instagram them, stand, sit, or whatever they want! It takes away the pressure of going to a concert hall and lets the listeners just enjoy some music.
But the audiences aren’t the only people getting something out of the experience. The students performing get an opportunity to play in a semi-formal and thus semi-pressured setting. They don’t have to wear tuxedos, walk on stage, bow, or stare into glaring stage lights. They can perform without the fear of the harsh criticism associated with the School of Music Recital Hall which allows them to maybe take more risks and hopefully grow and musicians.
And so we have turned the event into an annual occurrence. The format will continue to evolve as we find new ways of serving our audience and performers respectively. But the mission will continue to be the same:
Bringing free, public events to Columbia which can provide a pressure-free avenue for both listening to and performing music.