Whether your concert is a single event or the culmination of a longer-term creative project, certain principles apply. Most important is to learn what will be most meaningful to your host venue by being sensitive to its inner workings—its goals, its rules, and its timetables. Remind your artists that these settings are often unpredictable, so plans may be disrupted at the last minute by security alerts; population changes; or even a tragedy, such as illness or death, which may call for a shift in the tone of the concert or even a postponement or cancellation.
Use your basic research to think about who will attend the concert and how they will be told about the event. We have presented concerts for venue residents, staff, visitors, related community organizations, or a mixture of these groups. Think, too, about whether you will offer just one main concert or one concert plus smaller performances in various locations within the venue, such as wards within a hospital.
Set up a site visit or conference call so that artists can talk with venue staff and learn more about the needs, capacities and interests of the planned audience(s). This is particularly important if the artists are new to the constituency or will be entering a place they may find intimidating in some way—a locked behavioral health unit or a correctional facility, for example. These sessions between artists and staff should ideally include those staff members who work directly with the audience—for example, clinical staff in the case of hospitals—as well as management or public relations personnel.
Once the roster artists are familiar with the setting, you can begin exploring repertoire, interactivity with the audience, and participation by residents.
Longer-term creative projects, by definition, dictate that venue residents participate in the culminating concert, but single performances should also include some kind of resident participation as a way of bringing participants and musicians closer together. It could be something as simple as an organized sing-along or clapping, or a more highly developed performance by one or more residents with musical training or ability who join the roster artist for one piece. Here are a few guidelines we have found helpful in planning this kind of participation:
Camille Zamora shares one of the most meaningful moments from her past three years with Musical Connections.
Confer in advance with your venue contact on the setup of the concert space (and any smaller performance venues if you’re planning smaller, satellite performances). Correctional facilities, for example, may have special rules about seating and groups; hospitals may require approval from clinical staff.
If possible, decorate or alter the space to create anticipation, and signal that this is a special occasion. Try lowering the lights in a gymnasium or rearranging the seating into a
circle in a recreation room.
A single Musical Connections performance can have significant impact; it’s a moment that transforms the performer and the audience both.
You want the space to create a sense of
sharing and welcome. Think of set-up as another opportunity to connect
with participants, venue staff, and those audience members who arrive
early. This idea of inclusion at every stage of an event is what we call a “porous” concert or the “threshold to threshold” experience.
Encourage artists to think of these unusual performance spaces as challenging canvases for their creativity. How can they make the most of, say, a cafeteria or gymnasium? Will they walk around the audience while playing? Can they change locations during the concert?
Decide in advance whether someone will introduce and close out the concert and/or who it might be: It could be a venue staff member, a participant, or one of the musicians. Make sure you brief the designated emcee about who to thank and how to appropriately credit the musicians or group, the resident participants, and any administrative staff or government officials in attendance. Publicly thanking everyone is a critically important step in creating the sense of connectedness and sharing that these events aim to establish. It is also important to connect the musical activity to the venue; if a group is playing in a hospital, the roster artists should publicly acknowledge this setting with a “why we’re here” comment that ties music to the mission of the venue.
Build in adequate time for venue/technical set-up before the concert (or rehearsal if resident participation is planned), time to move between different areas if smaller performances are planned, as well as time needed for audience to enter the space.
Have your main venue contact readily available or with you throughout the set up period to solve any logistical problems.
Download PDF: Production Information Sheet for Artists, Example 1
Download PDF: Production Information Sheet for Artists, Example 2
While your focus will most likely be on planning a single concert, think about how to bring music into as much of the venue as possible. In certain settings, you may want to consider giving short performances for residents or staff who cannot attend the main concert—for example, bedridden residents or staff who are on duty during the main concert. We have found that some of our most memorable performances have taken place during bedside musical interactions with a single patient.
Musical Connections brings feelings of catharsis and redemption to a maximum-security state correctional facility.
As rewarding as these experiences can be for residents, staff, and artists, they should not be allowed to derail or compromise the quality of the concert.
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