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There is no such thing as a general audience for any kind of performance

By John Terauds on December 12, 2012

Elissa Milne

Every once in a while, someone’s wise words — usually something simple and direct — demolish whole edifices of complex arguments. I’ve just read such wise words on the nature of audiences from Australian pianist, teacher and composer Elissa Milne.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

Earlier this week on her consistently insightful blog, Milne posted A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts.

It deserves a full read, but I think the most important point Milne makes — one that extends beyond new music into any form and genre of performance — is that there is no such thing as a general audience.

Milne writes:

It’s not the audience for “new music” or “experimental music” or “art music”. It’s the group of people in your neighbourhood, community, workplace, internet forums, facebook groups and twitterfeed who are interested in what you do. That’s what an audience is: it’s a bunch of people who care about your work so much that they want to participate. By being there. By being close to the action. By giving you money so you’ll keep doing what you do.

And to make my point about this being far broader than a new music issue, let’s look at the hundreds of absolutely first-rate pianists out there and how they survive in their cities, countries and, in the luckiest cases, around the world: they have a community of fans. Valentina Lisitsa, who was just here, personifies the latest way to grow that community — by using social media with fiendish effectiveness.

We all know applause is not a right but something earned. That applies equally to bringing people into the venue in the first place.

Milne makes another point, which, to me, applies to presenters as well as performers:

Know who you are. Easier said than done. And really hard when ethical artistic engagement involves change as much as it does consistency. But the more you know who you are the more clarity you will have in shaping engaging music/performances and in building an audience for your work. And the less you will find yourself taking on projects that go nowhere and have no one listening.

It’s serious food for thought — no easier to chew for being so simply laid out.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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