Classical Music with a Beer Chaser
A recent study finds the audience for classical music is shrinking and aging. The National Endowment for the Arts says the number of people at performances has dropped nearly a third since the early 1980s. Some young musicians say the problem is that too many people think classical music is stodgy or even elitist. They're out to win new listeners by performing for free in unexpected places.
Classical Revolution Chicago plays at the Gallery Cabaret bar the last Wednesday of every month.
The group also plays First Fridays at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood.
A few guys are hanging out at the end of a bar in Bucktown. They're drinking beer, watching the game and playing the jukebox. And then….
Some classical musicians in shorts and sandals are taking over this neighborhood bar, Gallery Cabaret, for the night. They're part of a group that calls itself Classical Revolution Chicago.
It's a loose collective of classically trained musicians who've been playing in bars and galleries for several months now. They're mainly 20-somethings, in music school or recent graduates. They know the classical music audience is getting smaller, and they want to share the music they love with more people and make it less intimidating.
KING: We're all very relaxed. You know, it's not uncommon that we've all had a beer before we get up to play.
MUSZYNSKI: Or even like we have a beer on stage. (Laughter.) That happens quite a bit.
Kristin King plays clarinet, and Mike Muszynski plays bassoon.
KING: There are no rules. In a typical concert hall, everybody's just expected to know that you don't clap between movements and you stay completely silent. But there's none of that here. People clap whenever they want to, and they just show their appreciation for the music they like.
MUSZYNSKI: It's almost like guerilla warfare in the arts.
Muszynski says he hopes these shows spur people to check out classical concerts in the park and even symphony halls.
MUSZYNSKI: It's tough, ‘cuz there's almost like this stigma with classical music is that it all has to be perfect.
The musicians get past that perception, with a jam session that follows the more polished pieces.
Ambi: jam session
It's not like the typical jam, where people improvise wildly, and can take incredibly long solos.
Here, anyone can bring music and join in to play. The performers have to sight read, then play it cold, and it's often music they've never seen before. There's a lot of stopping and starting, and even some laughter.
DEAVER-PETCHENIK: We're not necessarily presenting the most quality and artistically refined performances in that segment of our events.
And that's on purpose.
The group's founder, Allie Deaver-Petchenik, says the jam sessions show that musicians have fun, and make mistakes as they learn. She modeled Classical Revolution Chicago after similar efforts in San Francisco and New York.
DEAVER-PETCHENIK: It sort of bleeds this perceived pretension out of classical music.
So far, she says, audiences have been pretty positive, even at one of the earliest shows.
DEAVER-PETCHENIK: We were actually mostly just playing for regulars at this bar, and for the whole first movement of our woodwind quintet piece, everybody just kind of stared at us, in this sort of disbelief. And by the end, they were clapping and yelling for us.
MUSZYNSKI: I think my favorite comment was, Yeah, Beethoven. (Laughter.) We got that one a number of times throughout the night.
MUSZYNSKI: I remember the first time I played, there was some guys watching the Hawks game and they were getting pretty hammered. At the end of every movement that we played, they were the loudest people in the bar, showing their praise for us.
The group is starting to recognize people at their shows. And being recognized themselves.
KING: I've had a few people say to me, oh, you're the clarinet player. Before I even get up on stage.
They think they're even changing some minds about classical music. Stacey Earley's one of them. She likes the music. But she never sought it out, because she thought concert halls were too stuffy, and she hates sitting still for two hours.
EARLEY: I'm enjoying it a lot more because I can even physically get into it. If something is particularly fast or quick movement, I can sort of bounce up and down and dance in my seat like I would at a regular concert. Where at a classical show, you'd probably look like a fool if you did that.
Earley says she decided that classical music should always be played in bars.
Ambi: music and bar crowd
For more details, check out Classical Revolution Chicago's Facebook page.