The Making of S4MU

Google ChromeScreenSnapz030This is not a course in how you need to listen. We won’t tell you how you should hear music, but we will suggest ways of listening and share some ways people inside the orchestra world think about how orchestras and programming work.

The premise for this class – perhaps oddly – is that in this time of quick hits, skimming and information overload, we think people actually want to be less superficially engaged; they want to invest more in the experiences they choose to have, not less.

People are tired of generic experiences and they want to engage more with the things that are meaningful to them. Thousands meet weekly in book groups. Hundreds of thousands run marathons. Massive online communities build in a seeming instant around things they care about.

This online class is our version of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), and by the time it starts, more than 1000 people have already signed up. Though universities have embraced the online course idea, arts organizations so far haven’t. So this is an experiment, being produced on a shoestring. We’re learning as we go along (and we’d welcome your suggestions through the contact form).

The reason for doing this is not to sell tickets for concerts. Over the past few years we’ve tried a series of experiments in engaging our audience around the ideas behind Spring For Music. We held a Fantasy Program Contest and asked people to submit ideas for programming. Spring For Music is competitive; orchestras apply to get included based on the inventive programs they submit. So we put all the submissions online and let the public vote. More than 60,000 did. We held a Great Arts Blogger Contest and had four elimination rounds and thousands voting and commenting on the blog posts.

And inside Carnegie Hall we sat hometown fans traveling with their orchestras all together in the center of the hall and gave them colored flags to wave to support their team… er… orchestra. It’s amazing how something as simple as flags changes the mood of a crowd.

We’re using the conductors, executives, music and orchestras presented by Spring For Music as the core of this course. This is a festival about good programming, so there’s a class on programming. The orchestras appearing in Carnegie represent a wide swath of American orchestras, so there’s a class in what makes a great orchestra. Much of the music programmed in S4M is unfamiliar, so there’s a class in what makes a piece of music popular. And finally, there’s a class in how to develop a listening strategy.

The people in the videos you will see are participants in S4M in some way. I traveled over several weeks to interview each of them and ask about how they think about music. Each class is introduced by me. And there are listening examples and a few quizzes along the way. Music producer Elaine Martone helped with music samples, and Ricky O’Bannon, a graduate student in arts journalism at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, helped in producing the content.

But this is just the starting point. You can discuss each section, contribute to the class wiki, or start a new thread or ask a question. One of the things that makes the idea of MOOCs so exciting is the possibility of tapping in to the expertise of an audience, a community.

This is a first attempt at this. We’ll learn lots, and we hope you’ll tell us how to make it better for next time.

Finally – we think S4MU has a natural real-world asset – you can take the class and put what you learn to use byt listening to the concerts in Carnegie Hall. So we have a deal for you:

Spring For Music offers a special deal for anyone who has signed up for S4MU. For $75 (half the already low $25/concert regular ticket price for the series) you get:

  • Tickets to all six concerts at Carnegie Hall May 6-11, 2013
  • Seating in the special S4MU section so you can meet others who participated in the class
  • A full set of souvenir Spring For Music bandanas – one for each orchestra
  • An opportunity to meet other S4MU participants at a social gathering in New York during the week of this year’s Festival

Click here and fill out the form and we’ll be in touch to reserve your tickets. Want to go to just one concert? You can buy tickets here.

Enjoy!

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