One thing I have learned this summer from working in the administration world is the value of a little bit of production. The “Finale” performance at Spoleto Festival USA is a show including live bands and a firework show. The production of it was very well-thought-out. The band thanked the audience BEFORE their final song so there would be no dead time at the end. Then, as soon as they hit the final chord, the lights all went out and the fireworks shot into the sky from the lake behind the stage. It was awe-inspiring and if anyone didn’t have chills, I would be surprised. This kind of production is why the event drew over 5,000 people all paying at least $45 to get in.
But it doesn’t take that much to make something special. The violinist in charge of Spoleto’s chamber music series was an incredibly charismatic speaker and would tell stories about each piece before they were performed. At the end of the concert, the audience was eating out of the palm of his hand and was on their feet applauding…for chamber music! Standing ovations are common place with full orchestras but when they happen for smaller groups, you know there was something special that happened. And all he was doing was introducing each piece and explaining why he loved it so much. Those concerts drew sold-out audiences paying at least $30 each. And why? To see string quartets? I am inclined to think no.
At Sewanee Summer Music Festival, the most well-attended concert is the “Festival Brass” concert which takes place in a cathedral-like church on campus. It occurs at 10:00pm, they light luminaries along the pathways leading to the building (and by “they”, I mean me and the other interns), and throughout the concert the performers take different positions around the chapel (in front of the audience, behind them, down the sides of the chapel, etc.)
The music is good but on the whole, it is a bunch of brassy fanfares… and of course Nimrod. A few votive candles and some choreography might be the difference between an average concert and “the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen” as some patrons told me.
This is not to diminish the value of great musicianship but these days, great musicianship is commonplace. It doesn’t take a lot to connect with the audience beyond the “we play good music” level but it is important to do. You don’t need fireworks to make an impression, all you have to do is talk a little bit about the music or add a little choreography. And these are just two ideas of ways to spice up a show; the possibilities are infinite…so why not utilize them??