By all accounts this is a joyful day. An impromptu performance by the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the opening of Music on the Square, and the long awaited realization of a vision for town and university to come together with the shared goal of strengthening the cultural fabric of a community through music.
As the press’ camera pans Yo-Yo, they find him bookended by the open grins of Brian Casey, DePauw University President and Dean of the School of Music, Mark McCoy. Benefactors Joyce and Judson Green seem overjoyed with their investment. And the Mayor of Greencastle, Sue Murray celebrates the moment with hundreds of spectators from within community.
An idyllic day, indeed, unless tomorrow is your first day as the newly-appointed Director of Music on the Square and you happen to be there witnessing first-hand what is certain to be the venue’s Golden Globe moment – the only moment not on your watch.
Falsifying a red carpet smile, reels of footage scroll through my imagination like a bad B-movie. Audience-sparse events, low enrollments, and piano-less jam sessions preview my dismissal. As I quietly sweat through my shirt, inspiration comes to me in Yo-Yo’s quintessentially pithy prelude of his performance of the X Major Cello Suite of JS Bach – the words “Back to first principles.”
Music on the Square was built to be a space for courageous music-making; to spark curiosity, expand creativity and cultivate collaboration. And although the M2 staff has not yet authored a formal vision and mission statement, we do share these guiding “first principles” when crafting our artistic programming, fundraising efforts, and the allocation of resources – both monetary and human capital.
Committed to speaking to truth and embracing the messy, fertile space of the artist-entrepreneur, we offer no checklists for success. Likely you will learn more from our failures than from our rare moments of wisdom. But if you, too, hope to bring about meaningful change, you will find yourself among friends.
More than by the numbers
Measuring outcomes of well-crafted events is not a new concept for seasoned arts administrators. Counting bodies, conducting surveys, and capturing numeric responses are essential when determining impact and informing future planning, as I am certain most of us would:
1 (strongly disagree) - 2 (disagree) - 3 (undecided) - 4 (agree) - 5 (strongly agree).
So, when hosting an Instrument Petting Zoo at the start of September, we were certain to tally each of the 157 children (and a bunch of Moms and Dads) in attendance. And although this does indicate some level of success (as does hitting our target of 100 students registered for lessons), there is one outcome yet calculated.
Have we ignited curiosity?
Somehow body counts and surveys seem to fall short in collecting these data. Thankfully, photos do not.
Coming Up with “The” Right Idea
Welcoming the challenge by Mark McCoy to partner on creating a course designed to expand the adult-learner’s universe and demystify “high” culture, I leapt to the invitation to find “the” right idea.
Patiently, Dean McCoy waited for my thoughts.
(Note: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s five-phase model of the creative process describes incubation as a restful time that allows for your unconscious to take over.)
Although, apparently I was incubating too long when the Dean asserted “Communiversity.” To which I replied, “Communi-what-a-what?”
It seems some ideas can’t be captured by words already in existence.
kuh-myoo-ni- vur-si-tee] noun
Community+University = expanded universe
Definition: Courses that invite adult-learners into conversation with music-makers, creators, and innovators to expand their universe.
There it was. “The” right idea. To boot, he decided Opera and Wine would be the best, first effort. And you know what, he was right. And that is exactly what we did.
And here is the story.
What’s at risk when students to run with an idea?
21CM is about empowering emerging musicians with the skills and tools to create new ways of exploring, creating, and sharing the art. And Music on the Square is about courageous music-making. Seems like they’re a good fit.
But what is at risk when you trust your students to run with an idea?
Storytellers @ M2 is musical mash-up of performance, interviews, humor and candid moments that give audiences a glimpse into the minds of the most compelling music-makers of our time. This VH1-style, reality art music event is the brainchild of what is now widely known as Storyteller's Dynamic Duo, Derrick and Dylan. Destined to become an overnight sensation from the moment they took to the mic, our hosts engaged Boston-based ensemble, A Far Cry in questions about what they hope to uniquely offer the profession, how they grapple with the struggles of inventing their own future, and how the internal romance of bassists, Carl Doty and violinist, Liesl Schoenberger Doty unfolded. And it was so much fun, we did the whole thing over again with NYC-based artist-ensemble Decoda.
20-somethings geeking out on classical music? Check.
Jam Session @ M2
The odds of that many mandolins marching down Indiana Avenue the evening Jayme Stone arrived with The Lomax Project are surely less than those of being hit by lightening while cashing in your billion dollar lotto ticket.
A biology professor on penny whistle and a classics professor on banjo, a retired middle school teacher and former coach on vocals, joined by dozens of folks from around the county is testament to the unrivaled power of folk traditions’ ability to bring together community. All a result of DePauw’s Music House students’ commitment to seeing the world not through the lens of institutional affinity, but through artistic allegiances and the immeasurable talents of The Lomax Project.
And if M2 is about closing gaps, the joyous, healing voice of Margaret Glaspy unleashed on Shenandoah saved the souls of even this sinner.
And then, a bump in the road
In September we were all running 100 miles/hour with M2 hosting an event almost everyday. And although some thrive on that kind of frenetic pace, it is reasonable that it’s not for everyone. On the heels of hosting a luncheon for the spouses of the Board of Trustees, the Manager of M2 quit with little explanation other than the stress level was no longer sustainable. Sadly, although none of us saw it coming, none of us were surprised. I think what shook most of us was the question, “So what else have we missed?”
A new hire. A new approach. Let them run with their creative ideas, and trust in the shared vision. And strive to open-up communication when the stakes are not always so high.
So with loosening the line just a bit, our new manager hits the ground running.
If NYC can boast of both SubCulture and Le Poisson Rouge, then surely Greencastle can brag on Club M2.
Positioned in a Nashville, songwriter-in-the-round style, with the audience encircling the young string quartet, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. And whether listening to Phillip Glass in complete darkness or witnessing up close the visual communication required of a chamber ensemble to navigate Messiaen, this minimalistic set-up allowed the audience to lean in or lean back and contemplate the end of time.
Classical music is undergoing a radical transformation. And how that makes you feel won't change a thing. Worlds end. Worlds begin. But when witnessing up-close the next generation embracing the challenges and opportunities to connect art, artists, and audiences, you get the feeling they are on to something.
Music on the Square fosters a space for courageous music-making and we would love to courageously make music with you! Gathering as a community of music lovers, we spark curiosity, expand creativity, and cultivate collaboration through one-on-one lessons, adult-learning classes, coached ensembles, and radical, breathtaking performances.
From children taking private music lessons for the first time to adult-learners experiencing Communiversity [n. community + university = expanded universe] courses that connect us with music-makers, creators, and innovators, we invite you to make Music on the Square your home for music-making!