Great art music must be lived, not simply admired from afar. Music can be much more for audiences than a badge of cultural consumption. And it can be more for performers than a job or a skill to be mastered. Music can change the world if it is made from the ground up.
During my time in academia, I realized that orchestras play a special role in building a more inclusive world. With some deliberate community-building work both amongst the players and with the audience, an orchestra can become an environment that is genuinely welcoming to all and gives everyone the opportunity to fall in love with symphonic music. Bringing great music into people’s lives is not simply a matter of providing a product and hoping it is consumed. Instead, it is a way of offering people a voice in the great conversation that is music making.
Orchestras are not designed to be democratic – the conductor is in charge of the rehearsal or performance and that’s the end of it. While clear lines of authority are critical in making complex music, that doesn’t mean that the endeavor can’t be collaborative. When a conductor approaches their role as team-building can help to create an environment where a team takes shape, rather than simply a stage full of followers. When every player is engaged and an orchestra functions as a supportive community, then a performance becomes a deeply emotional act of sharing.
When music making is at its best, and it is shared with an audience rather than simply played at them, then something special happens. There is an indescribable change in the room, as the whole audience shares an experience that, though they will discuss it, they may not be able to put into words. Great music takes listeners on a complex emotional journey. They leave the concert feeling changed, feeling differently about the world, with their senses altered. Great films and great theater have the same effect. It may seem trite to say so, but a communally shared emotional experience can be profound. Maybe the change lasts only a short while, and maybe something lingers. Either way, bonds have been formed between previously unconnected people and that can’t help but change the world.