Reach Out and Touch Them
When you hear a piece of music, are you ever struck with the sensation that someone—maybe the composer, maybe the performer—is “reaching
out” to you, construed broadly? Does it seem that someone separated from you by a cultural, geographical, or historical gulf is transmitting something to you, whether that something is a statement, a question, an exclamation, or some other kind of utterance entirely? I ask because even though this sensation is almost inescapable (particularly in the area of contemporary music), it’s not enough to qualify the commissioning and production of new work as “outreach.” Can you tell I’ve been looking into some grant applications?
On one level, this disjunction is absurd; to write a piece of music and put it in front of people is to reach outwards, period. But in a different way, it forces us to consider a dimension of the reaching-out that we might ordinarily overlook: Who is the audience, and what benefit does this specific content offer them? Maybe that first question impinges on our creative process to a greater or lesser extent, although the only person whose standards you can be sure your music will satisfy is, of course, yourself. But the second—why this material for that crowd—is one that I’m not as likely to take into account (on the optimistic assumption that whatever I produce might someday be played to multiple audiences with differing expectations). Nevertheless, it’s at the heart of a musical outreach effort: To whom, and with what, do we want to reach out?
As an undergrad, I took part in several teaching-performances in the Baltimore area which were super enriching for me (and hopefully somewhat so for the elementary schoolers too!). Barring a few live electronics demos, though, I haven’t done any outreach since then. Maybe it’s time to get back into that world. Most of the outreach projects I’m familiar with took place in inner-city or rural schools, which is an absolutely noble place to start, but maybe there’s just as much to be done in suburban schools—even though
their budgets might be higher, opportunities to be personally involved with the performing arts might actually be scarcer than they are in heavily urban areas. I’m really curious to hear your experiences with outreach: What works?