Every conservatory student is faced with the daunting task of putting together a concert in which he or she performs or composes. When I had to prepare for my “final exam concert” in 2008, I had no idea what was involved, only that I had to do it.
There was no such thing as crowd funding back in those days. Or at least I had never heard of such a thing. The only cost I was worried about was the dinner after the concert. How was I to treat 40 musicians to an authentic Chinese banquet? I should also pay for drinks and snacks after the concert and before the “verdict” — a half-hour period of rejoice and uncertainty before the jury announces my grade. I should also buy gifts for the conductors and soloists and flowers for the orchestral musicians.
I decided I would ask for sponsorship — whatever that meant.
I asked the university where I had been teaching as an adjunct lecturer. They helped me reduce the cost of printing the posters and programme notes. I asked the bicycle shop next door. The owner was surprisingly supportive. I asked the wine shop opposite. I asked the dental practice opposite the wine shop. That covered three of the four corners of my street.
The dentist said his practice was new. He didn’t have any cash to give. I negotiated free dental cleaning for the soloists and choir singers in my chamber opera. The wine shop gave me a big discount on expensive wines for the two conductors and a case of wine for the Chinese banquet.
How do I make sure the 200-seat concert hall gets filled? I could call and e-mail all my friends. I could put a poster up and hope people would notice. Someone introduced me to Facebook as a means to grow an audience.
These costs were least of my worries.
My real worry was finishing my opera in time, early enough to find musicians to play it. I had a mental block to finishing it. I had a row with one of my teachers. The other lived in Belgium. Fortunately, my first composition teacher, who had retired a few years before, came to my rescue. The late Henk Alkema lived on a house boat within a short cycle distance from my house. He not only offered to help me with my opera but insisted that I needed a conductor. And that he wanted to conduct it.
The story of how Henk helped me deserves a blog post in itself. I wish I had asked him how to recruit musicians for my opera. He told me the more violinists the better. I deliberately avoided writing a viola part because I knew there was a shortage of viola players at the conservatory. I went to the teachers and asked for names of their best students.
Would I have to pay them to play my music? I hadn’t budgeted for that. We were all students, after all. But why would my classmates want to volunteer their time to study, rehearse, and perform my music? Unless, they did it out of the goodness of their hearts, they got credit for doing so, they would feel left out if they didn’t, or I’d do the same for them. I simply didn’t know what motivated musicians to play music, and in this case, unknown music by an unknown composer.
As the project wore on, I got more ideas and more help. People volunteered. I recruited a stage manager. I recruited a front office manager – someone who graduated with a Masters in arts management – to handle the audience and programs. I invited my next door neighbor, an amazingly good amateur photographer, to take profile photos of the musicians before the concert. I even got interviewed in the university newspaper.
- Poster in English
- Poster in Dutch
- Programme notes in English
- Programme note insert in Dutch
- Final exam photos – by my neighbor Fokke v.d. Meer
In hindsight, I daresay that it was the most empowering experience I have ever had. If you can produce your own concert from scratch, you can do anything.