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Entertaining and Engaging
A couple of months ago I was invited to write a story for the University of Toronto's quarterly magazine, U of T Magazine. I enjoyed the process - working with the editor to hone in on a topic, submitting the original and then going through the various stages of editing - and the end result is pretty close to my initial draft.
In the story, I examine some of the ways we in the music community can ensure that our current and potential audiences are provided with a welcoming environment in which to enjoy, explore and discover music, and also deal with some of the challenges that come with booking a festival. (You can read the finished product here, and the original draft here - I'd be interested in your reaction to both.)
I was at a show last weekend which reminded me how important it is to keep audience enjoyment and engagement in mind when booking the festival. Last Saturday afternoon I made my way to the recently-opened (and fairly spectacular) Daniels Spectrum (formerly known as the Regent Park Arts and Culture Centre) for a performance by the Sun Ra Arkestra, accompanying the contemporary dance of Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie and joined by students from the Regent Park School of Music (RPSM).
The afternoon began with RPSM students jamming in various locations throughout the lobby. Shortly after 2 pm, members of the Arkestra (in full, flashy attire) joined the fray, eventually leading a musical procession into the concert hall. The event was free and very well-attended...and this sort of mayhem chafed against every bone in my arts administrator body...but it was so much fun to see everyone enjoying the melee. As we took our seats in the hall - and every seat was filled - the Arkestra played us in with ambient and improvised sounds.
The performance unfolded in three sections, with several tunes in each section. Each tune featured a new set of dancers on stage, ranging from a solo tap dance (with a skeleton as a partner) to a vignette with three pregnant men and included a variety of creatures wild and wonderful. We heard standards and not-so-standards, compositions and improvisations, and for the last tune - "We Travel The Spaceways" - the RPSM students joined the other artists onstage and, eventually, audience members were also invited onstage for a celebratory, free-form procession. The positive vibes in the room were impossible to ignore.
From a purely artistic standpoint, the afternoon left me a bit wanting. The performance did not quite provide enough space for either ensemble - the Arkestra or Coleman Lemieux - to really show off what they could do. But from an audience engagement and entertainment standpoint, this was the elusive homerun - an engaged, capacity crowd watching serious music and dance, and an entertained audience being invited to party with the artists at the end of the show.
There was also another layer to the afternoon, I thought - the involvement of the RPSM students. The RPSM curriculum, given the diversity of the student body, is necessarily "non-traditional" (i.e. non-Western based). To have students involved in a project like last Saturday's, featuring contemporary jazz and contemporary dance, is, in my mind, brilliant. If young musicians are exposed to all kinds of music (and art forms) when their musical habits and tastes are still being formed, I feel they are much more likely to support, perform, enjoy a variety of music as they get older. They won't have the same musical inhibitions that some others - who might have grown up on a strict diet of classical music or, for that matter, traditional jazz - might harbour.
I applaud everyone who helped to put this event together.
What events have you been to recently which have inspired you in various ways?