by Mark G. Auerbach
Symphony orchestras nationwide face the dilemma of having an aging audience, with few younger folks joining the ranks, and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra is no exception. However, new education initiatives are reaching out to Springfield elementary school students with special concerts at Symphony Hall, to high school students with a tailored “Meet The Musicians” program. Students get to attend a rehearsal, and have dinner with the musicians.
As outreach programs to build younger audiences go, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra does what it can with its limited resources. Opera companies perform with English-language surtitles. Theatres schedule “talk-backs” with artists and audiences. The arts groups know that a more engaged audience, who begin attending and appreciating the arts at an early age, become the organization’s future foundation of support.
Springfield High School of Commerce Band Director Matt Bertuzzi, a Longmeadow native and Longmeadow High School 2004 graduate, who is now a member of the Springfield Symphony Board of Directors, was instrumental in getting high schooler to the Meet The Musicians program. He approached Maestro Kevin Rhodes with a novel idea. Students would text him during rehearsals to ask questions about the music being rehearsed. If a more formal text message delivery system to bring both program notes of a concert to audience members, and if these messages in real-time said “watch for this” or “listen for that”, audience members might have a user-friendly means to learn more about the music being played as the performance moved along.
Bertuzzi, a graduate in music education from UMass/Amherst, and a Masters Degree in Conducting, also from UMass/Amherst, who works with tech-savvy high school musicians every day, and Maestro Rhodes, who is also tech-savvy, decided to test a program, which they named Real Time Concert Notes. For the Springfield Symphony season opener on October 14, the Maestros chose the Brahms Symphony No. 2, developed a real-time text script, and test drove the program with the audience.
“Real-time Concert Notes is bringing the live orchestra experience we all know into the 21st Century”, said Bertuzzi. “The program notes and blurbs that the audience can read before the concert are great, but this experience will be giving them the same type of information and targeting it to the exact time in the music that it becomes relevant.”
Those audience members who chose to participate were invited to Symphony Hall’s second balcony, a long series of steps above the grand tier, with superb acoustics and a good view of the stage, but an area where the sounds of texting and the lights of cellphones wouldn’t intrude on the rest of the audience. According to Bertuzzi, about one hundred people “test drove Real Time Concert Notes, and filled out a survey after the program. I thought it might appeal to a younger segment of the audience, but there was a cross-section of younger people and older folks, all comfortable with texting technology.” Bertuzzi added “There was no additional charge to participate, and all the user had to do was text a message to a specific number to get started. Ushers and volunteers helped set everyone up.”
Bertuzzi said the program was well-received. Rhodes agreed. “I love modern technology and am every day thankful that I live in an era where information and communication is so readily and easily available as the phone in my pocket, So we’re going to take that phone in your pocket and use it to help break down some of those mysteries of classical music.”
Armed with positive feedback from the participants, Rhodes and Bertuzzi are refining the concept, and Real Time Concert Notes v.2 will take place at the November 4 Viva America concert, which includes accessible works by George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and a new work. They’ll offer the program for the concert finale, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. “Maestro Rhodes and I are working on the text content,” says Bertuzzi, “and we’re hoping to eventually have sections on all levels of Symphony Hall for participants.
This reporter, moderately tech savvy, plans to try out the program on November 4.
Any ticketed member of the Springfield Symphony audience can participate in Real Time Concert Notes at no extra charge, other than the charges that one’s cell provider might surcharge for texting. For details on Real-Time Concert Notes: http://www.springfieldsymphony.org/news/article/10/06/2017/real-time-concert-notes
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB.