“Classical audiences are old, classical music is older, and both are dying.”
If you follow classical music, or even if you don’t, you’ve probably read an article or two that could be effectively summarized by that sentence above. Orchestras around the US have been reading those articles for decades and have been working hard to dispel those “death rumors” by attracting new, younger audiences. There are student discounts, outreach programs, arrangements of pop music, video game soundtracks, anything that might attract the elusive millennial.
Despite the success of many of these efforts, there is still a pageantry, perceived or real, to attending a classical performance that can sour a newcomer’s experience. Instead of simply sitting down and being engrossed in the music, a first-timer may find themselves concerned with whether they dressed formally or worrying about when is the right time to clap.
Almost two years ago, I discovered Groupmuse, a classical music startup that removes all of the perceived stigma about classical concerts by moving performances out of gilded halls and into your neighbor’s living room. As their website puts it, “Groupmuse is a platform enabling communities to come together around great art; an online social network that connects young classical musicians to local audiences through concert house parties.” They’re free to host and audience members each bring $10 to tip the musicians.
There’s no dress code, so no one will sneer at your flip flops. Audiences are encouraged to squeeze in, sitting on rugs and pillows just feet from the musicians. (And clapping is appropriate whenever you feel so inspired.) After attending a number of Groupmuses, I believe this is one of the most effective platforms for attracting new audiences to classical music that I’ve encountered. The grassroots nature of this concept keeps people in their seats, and keeps them coming back for more. Imagine hearing a Shostakovich quartet for the first time while sipping a beer in a living room among 25 of your friends and not want to hear more? Preposterous. For once, event goers have their phones in their pockets — not because they feel obligated to, but because they are genuinely invested in the performance happening in front of them.
I’ve enjoyed these events so much that I decided to host one myself in December, bringing about 30 friends and strangers into my apartment to enjoy some baroque pieces and arrangements of German carols while the Netflix Yule Log crackled in the background. It was a great way to support young local artists, make new friends, and share something beautiful in a comfortable setting.