I thoroughly enjoyed the residency and concert performance of Fifth House Ensemble at the University of Texas. I had the fortune of attending three presentations in total, each featuring the ensemble’s remarks on building a career, public speaking, and how to perform with an audience in mind. The talks I attended were eye opening and actionable, and I am incredibly inspired by the work that Fifth House Ensemble is doing at the intersection of classical music, community, and business.
I found one statistic that they presented to be especially salient. Based on several studies, only 3% of the U.S. population is articulate about and appreciative of classical music. These are the three percent that attend concerts because they truly understand and enjoy the art of each performance. An additional 1% attends classical music concerts because they find joy in listening but aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about the music itself. The tragedy, according to Fifth House, is that we spend our careers pursuing the attention of 4% of the population. Classical musicians compete against each other for the ticket sales, season subscriptions, and donations from a minority of people who already love and interact with classical music while ignoring the other 96% of the population. It is this audience, the majority of our population, that Fifth House Ensemble has built a reputation for engaging.
In their presentations Fifth House made it clear that most people already love classical music, they just don’t know it yet. In order to encourage excitement about classical music we, as professional musicians, need to be innovative in our approach.
Inspired by the invitation to follow Fifth House in this pursuit, I began to think about where I will need to be innovative in order to engage with the majority of our population. My focus in school is on violin performance with the goal of teaching privately in the future. I am currently practicing and learning as much as I can, but Fifth House made it clear that being prepared to be innovative is essential. The arenas in which I can dare to be innovative are in teaching, engagement with the community, and in my personal avocation for the arts. While these are future arenas I will live in in the future (away from the comfort and protection of the Butler School of Music), I can nevertheless begin to practice and prepare during my time in school.
First and foremost, the ability to be innovative in my approach requires a change in my current mindset. Before hearing about the significant work that Fifth House Ensemble is doing, I had my sights set at developing a very high level private studio by mastering teaching skills. While I still want to accomplish that goal, I now see that perhaps having a high level private studio is merely a stepping-stone on the path of connecting people to classical music. With the encouragement to consider the 96% of the population who are not drawn to classical music, my mind began to spin on the ways in which I could set up a studio that serves that population in unique ways. How can I be creative in communicating the value of music? How can I be creative in communicating the value of private lessons? How can I be creative in the way that I charge for the value I provide in lessons? How can I be conscious in my decision to set roots in communities that don’t already have flourishing arts programs? How can I use the skills and repertoire my students develop and to engage the greater community? Fifth House Ensemble didn’t provide the answer to these questions, but they provided me with the opportunity to upgrade my mindset.
With a wider vision of what the future might hold, I now look forward to seeking out information about innovation in and around our field of music. As Fifth House Ensemble discussed the initiatives they have pursued in the last ten years, it became obvious that they operate with an entrepreneurial attitude. As they honed their craft as musicians, each member also worked to hone their communication, marketing, networking, economics, grant writing, business strategy, management, and risk taking skills. By independently growing a thriving business with these skills, they have given themselves the autonomy to be creative at the forefront of music making. Melissa Snoza, flutist and Executive director of Fifth House Ensemble, was kind enough to send me a short list of book recommendations that inspired and informed her in the early stages of their development in a series of emails after the presentations. Though this information (and especially classes concerning these topics) seem far removed from the music building, I will tackle her list of relevant resources first in order to begin to position myself for success in the business world.
Finally, I hope to find opportunities to immediately use my new mindset and knowledge while I complete my undergraduate degree. Ideas that come to mind are playing an outreach event with my quartet at the homeless advocacy center I normally volunteer at without my violin, mobilizing my violin students to perform for the community, and carefully preparing a talk for my junior recital that will make my presentation accessible to my audience. The difficulty will be in balancing my pursuit for innovation with my present quest for mastery of the fundamentals.
In their presentations Fifth House Ensemble acknowledged what most musicians have already accepted; the number of classical music lovers are shrinking while the number of students working toward traditional degrees remains the same. The significance of their presentation was in the tangible ways they encouraged each of us to think about a broader and more meaningful career in the field of music. Their encouragement will undoubtedly guide the way I teach, perform, and advocate for the arts for years to come.