Bringing the Audience Along for the Ride

I had the joy of speaking with Jedd Beaudoin at NRP’s KMUW station in Wichita, KS leading up to the premiere of my symphony last month. The conversation was deep, energized, and really touched on a lot of issues that are important to composers working today, issues that we struggle to overcome, and my personal compositional process. You can click the photo to the left to read the entire interview, but here’s a little excerpt of a point that I feel strongly about. Thanks to Jedd for an engaging and stimulating conversation!

If I think back to maybe 20 years ago, there was this idea that new compositions were difficult to launch, orchestras were reluctant to engage with them. What do you think has changed?

I think it’s become part of the business plan for a lot of symphonies. In the arts, in a way, we’re all sort of making it up as we go. Like any good businesswomen or men, we’re seeing what other people do that works really well. Luckily, some of our best and biggest symphony orchestras in the world have dug into this idea of trying new things and trying to engage with younger and newer audiences in different ways.

You see orchestras like the L.A. Philharmonic, which is always trying new things and engaging in interesting and new ways. I think that, in the past, a new piece like mine would have been presented as though it were already an established work, as if people already knew it and loved it, which we quickly found out is not the case. If this is a brand-new work, you have to build that interest and relationship between the audience and the piece itself.

That’s part one, which I think we’ve figured out pretty well. You can’t just drop a new piece of music on an audience and expect them to be excited about it. You can’t just drop a piece of music that’s very difficult or requires some sort of set up without giving that set up.

I think the step two, which I’m really interested in, is engaging directly with the audience. Even more importantly, engaging directly with the musicians. I have a philosophy that I’ve talked a lot about in the last couple of years. My ideal audience, and who I think about the most, is actually my musicians. I spend a lot of time with my musicians, making sure that the parts that I write are fun to play. I think that’s been a missing component from new compositions. [Often the composer] has a vision of what they want and usually it’s something [along the lines of], “Listen to how smart I am,” or, “Listen to how creative and experimental I am.”

That approach does a couple of things. It pushes the music in ways, very quickly, that stays a step ahead of the audience and a step ahead of the musicians. If you’re worried about the braininess of the piece, you’re not thinking about if your musicians are having fun, you’re not thinking about if your audience is ready and prepared for what you’re about to do. If I’m sure that the musicians love the music, then I’m sure that they can sell it to the audience. If my musicians don’t like to play it, there’s no way that the audience is going to want to listen to it. [Laughs.]

That’s been my philosophy, and I think a lot of composers are starting to think that way. They realize that it’s not their job to show the audience how smart or innovative they are. It’s their job to write music that the musicians want to play that they can sell to the audience and bring them along for the ride.


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