Mini-Concerts, Maxi-Results

I wondered if playing and talking informally with students on campuses I visited might build audiences for my concerts; so I started doing the casual, unannounced sessions I call mini-concerts: fifteen or twenty minutes in a student union, dorm or lounge; anywhere there’s foot traffic and a piano. “Unannounced” because if you announce them, the students who think they know they don’t like classical music will avoid them!

Is the piano a clunker? The bench too high? That’s OK; just start playing. You’ll soon have one listener, another one, two more, three more. And when you stop, you’ll hear:

“That’s so beautiful!”

“Can you play Moonlight Sonata?”

“Play the Empire Theme from Star Wars!”

“Do you go here?”

“Do you teach here?”

“Are you on iTunes?”

“Can we follow you on Twitter?”

“Is that classical? I thought classical’s supposed to be boring.”

“Do you practice like every day?”

“How old were you when you started?”

“What’s the hardest piece?”

And “Keep playing.”

Introduce yourself. Answer a question or two. (Don’t be wordy!) If a Scarlatti sonata goes well, maybe they’ll like to hear another, or to learn he wrote 550 of the things, half of them after age 65—goodbye, old-age stereotypes!—and that “sonata” meant something different to him from what it meant to Beethoven.

Tell them a couple times when and where your concert will be, and be sure to know if it’s free or what the student price is. Invite them, in so many words. Tell them, “Bring your friends, and be sure to come backstage afterwards and say hi.” They become their friends’ guides to the galaxy.

Mini’s are great fun—just don’t condescend, and you’ll be fine. They generate powerful word-of-mouth for your concert. But you’re not just building one audience for one concert from “the usual suspects”—people who already attend such things. You’re turning those who have never attended a concert into people who might do so in the future. And you’re increasing the chance of future successes by other artists.

I can’t tell you how many managers, seeing the effectiveness of mini-concerts, have said they’d love to have every visiting performer do a couple. Why not? I ask; and the answer is simple: Performers refuse. They won’t do them. Well!

If you don’t refuse, the manager will see you as not only an artist but an ally—one of a small and precious group–and be more likely to invite you back.

One of the first times I did mini’s was at a liberal-arts college in Appalachia. I gave three in two days; and on the third day I played the recital, in an old wooden hall with a balcony and a high ceiling. I remember the ovation as I walked on stage, so intense I glanced around to see if some rock star was following me! With that kind of reception, of course I played my best; and you could say the audience and I got the best from each other. That was when I realized that mini-concerts have a maxi-effect!

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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