Posts Tagged ‘chamber music’


I met Chris in a local coffeeshop. He asked me why I had moved here, so I mentioned that I am a musician. Then, the topic of Schubertiads came up. I told him about a network that supports modern-day Schubertiads and after explaining that I am looking for hosts, he set a date to host his own.

The day finally arrived. I leave rehearsal as quickly as possible to get to his house. The quartet is already there, sitting around in the little room next to the kitchen, chatting with Chris’s roommate and his girlfriend, as she stirs some mulled cider and takes a tray of bruschetta out of the oven. A few minutes later, four strangers walk into the living room.

“Is this… Groupmuse?”

“Yeah, come on in! How did you hear… [about Groupmuse]?”

“We’re Emily’s friends.”

“Oh, Emily! I met her in Boston! Through Groupmuse. Welcome, welcome!”

“Yeah, we’ve been friends since high school. She told us to check it out.”

And just like that, three or four more groups of strangers with beer, chips, chocolate truffles, fruit platters, and wine arrive to the party. They are all neighbors, friends, friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends.

When Chris arrives, I thank him again for hosting and ask him when he wants to begin. So we herd everyone into the living room, where music stands have been assembled. By the time everyone has found a spot either on the couch or simply on the floor, Wendy and Angela, first violinist and violist, are only inches away from the people in the front. I don’t think any of the people in the room who weren’t holding instruments had been that close to a string quartet before. You could sense the mixture of nervous reluctance and excited expectancy in the air.

“Welcome everyone! Thank you Chris and Mike for hosting! Hosts are so important; without friendly, welcoming people like you this wouldn’t be possible… This is a Groupmuse…” After the spiel, Angela introduces the piece, its historical background, and things to listen for. Then Mozart’s String Quartet No. 15 in D minor ensues.

Groupmuse is a social network that sponsors events that are both a house party and a chamber music concert. These events, known as Groupmuses, are conceived after Schubert’s own Schubertiads and they help communities generate their own chamber music concerts in people’s living rooms by creating instances that are both socially and artistically stimulating. Through a simple online platform (www.groupmuse.com), hosts get connected with musicians in their area and guests can RSVP to as many concerts as they would like to attend. At the end, a donation bowl is passed around the audience and everything goes to the musicians. Then a clipboard goes around, where people can join the network’s mailing list and indicate whether they’re interested in hosting a Groupmuse or volunteering as MC. The clipboard is crucial, because it’s usually after people have attended a Groupmuse that they want to host their own. That’s how Groupmuses keep generating themselves and the network keeps growing. People usually want to come back for more.

Most audience members in a Groupmuse, also known as “Musers”, are not trained musicians. One may think that this could be an obstacle for them to enjoy the music, but the reality is the opposite: Musers have not been exposed to classical music to the point of saturation that music students sometimes reach. I love music and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it, but when you are in music school, there are so many performances available that one could begin to take them for granted. And that’s on top of practicing for your lesson, rehearsing with your chamber group, making recordings for summer festivals, preparing for a master class… You name it. Eat, Sleep, Music.

Musers, in turn, do not often have this kind of exposure to live music, so coming to one of these concerts is a very special and unique experience for them. They deeply appreciate the chance to experience chamber music in a setting that, unlike the concert hall, is not intimidating. As untrained listeners, they experience visceral reactions to the music, they can move to the music if they feel so inspired, they clap between movements, and they’re not afraid to ask questions at the end of the performance, because the setting allows it. I’ve even had people in a Groupmuse cheer from excitement in the middle of the recitative before the last movement of Beethoven’s Op. 132! It was awesome! And it shows that they get it.
Musicians, in turn, are encouraged by this enthusiasm, making the music more vibrant, more alive. Something new emerges between those few inches that lie between performer and listener. It’s an invisible connection that is hard to describe, but if you are a musician, I am sure you have experienced it: It’s the satisfaction to know that you have reached someone. And it doesn’t come from flawless technique or impressive stage presence; it comes from an open heart and a willingness, an urge to share. Groupmuse has been so significant for my development as an artist because it has helped me rediscover why I play music: To connect with other people in order to share what it is to be human.

Before being musicians, we are people just as our listeners. It’s time to do away with the stuffiness that drives us apart: Dressing up in funny outfits that make us look like penguins; expecting listeners to be moved by the music but to sit still and quietly in the dark, using a physical space that sends the message “I am an Olympic god; you are a simple mortal. Don’t touch me.” Wouldn’t you rather be enjoying some Brahms in the comfort of your home, with a drink in your hand and surrounded by friends? But beware: Groupmuse is not musical outreach. The concept of outreach involves reaching out of your comfort zone only to go back to it later. Through Groupmuse, musicians meet lay audiences where they are, where they feel comfortable: In the living room, at the center of daily life.

The Groupmuse model was created in Boston and has successfully been exported to other major cities in the US, such as New York and San Francisco. It’s getting started in Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Rochester, and it has recently crossed international borders with Groupmuses in Toronto, Canada; Toulouse, France; Berlin, Germany; and Seoul, South Korea. If you want to know more about Groupmuse, check out the website. Read the About section at the bottom; it has some beautiful insight on how Groupmuse got started and what its main goals are. You can also take a look at some pictures on Facebook or watch this short video made by Time Magazine to find out what a Groupmuse looks like. If you are a musician in one of these cities, create a profile and get involved to experience first hand what Groupmuse is about! If you’re a musician in a different place: Get in touch with the Groupmuse team and start Groupmuse there! All you need is musicians to play with and a non-musician friend who has a living room and friends who will come to the party.