Innovating Through Artistry

Contestant #4 Eli Epstein

In Entrepreneurial Artist Contest Contestants, Music on December 7, 2008 at 7:00 am

Written by Eli Epstein
eli-epstein-79691

Inside Out audiences realize that classical music can be a tremendous resource for understanding oneself and others. It’s food for our minds, hearts and souls. And yet classical music is intangible, mysterious, and undiscovered by most of the American population. It’s generally thought of as elitist and inaccessible except to the knowledgeable few.

Inside Out builds bridges to audiences by showing that a connection with music is not so much about knowing (although it’s useful to know the historical and cultural context of a piece), it’s more about tapping into the emotional essence and universal human experience that’s inherent in every work of art, be it music, dance, theatre, film, or visual art. This innovative interdisciplinary approach helps concertgoers access their memories and activate their imaginations so that they can have more moving, meaningful, and personal experiences.

I’ve been passionate about classical music my whole life. As a child, I performed as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra several times; as an adult I was a member of the prestigious Cleveland Orchestra for 18 years. In those formal settings, the artificial wall that separated musicians and audiences troubled me.

I began thinking about how I might improve the connection with an audience by creating a more informal atmosphere and presenting novel ways to help people relate better to the music. When I started conducting ensembles at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2000, I noticed how much the students craved to be emotionally connected to what they were doing. I was rehearsing Brahms’s Serenade No. 2, and came to a difficult cello passage. Instead of saying, “Cellos, you really need to practice that,” I took a different tact. I said, “When I think about this melancholy passage, it reminds me of the gypsies in Vienna, who were probably looked down upon and didn’t have enough to eat.” An oboe player raised his hand and half-jokingly said, “That’s how I feel as a music student, looked down upon and hungry!” Everyone laughed. I said, “Okay, so you’ve felt how those gypsies might have felt. Hold onto that.” We played the passage again and the sound of the cello section changed completely. It was dark and emotional, and most of the technical problems had disappeared. The students and I were amazed. I started thinking about how I could give listening audiences a similar “right brain” experience.

I presented my first Inside Out Concert in Shaker Heights in 2002; I rented a church and asked colleagues from The Cleveland Orchestra to perform with me. I advertised this way: “Do you feel uncomfortable at classical music concerts? Are you scared about not knowing the rules of concert etiquette? Please wear comfortable clothes and bring your imaginations!”

I welcomed the audience of about 100 adults. I encouraged them to get physically comfortable by letting them stretch and breathe deeply, since people become more imaginative when they’re relaxed. I told them bits of information about each piece, and gave them creative ways to project their lives onto the music. For example, before we performed a Bach Fugue I told the audience that a fugue is about building something. I asked each of them to choose something they felt most earnest about building in their lives. I explained that every project takes many steps to complete. Every time the fugue melody was presented, they could think of it as a building block. Things always come up that we don’t expect so we have to improvise, like Bach, who improvised between the fugue statements. We demonstrated several excerpts, since familiarity helps people relax, then played it through. Afterwards people seemed excited. “I was totally engaged.” “I’m a rock ‘n’ roll guy, but I really liked this concert!” “When’s your next one?” I was juiced!

Through my collaboration with three different psychotherapists, Ceci MacDonnell LISW, Alan Bachers PhD, and Cynthia Anne Hale PhD, Inside Out has evolved to include guided visualizations to connect concertgoers with universal emotional themes such as joy, loss, strength, struggle, gratitude and grace.

For example, I presented Brahms’s Horn Trio, which, I told the audience, was written during the year after his mother died. I related that loss is a universal human experience, and led a guided meditation to help the audience get in touch with their sorrows. After the concert, the pianist of the trio said, “Eli, do you realize that half the people in the audience were crying during the third movement?”

In 2005, I left The Cleveland Orchestra and moved to Boston to have more time and energy to develop Inside Out and other creative endeavors. The Arlington Street Church in Boston has been hosting my Inside Out Concert Series for three years. Listeners have reported having amazing and moving experiences. In fact, 62% of survey respondents disclosed that this approach changed the way they thought about classical music. 
The Boston Globe, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Santa Barbara News-Press have published feature articles about Inside Out.

Programs have varied in terms of method, repertoire and ensemble size (from solo to chamber and orchestral). I’ve presented diverse music of composers such as Beethoven, Ravel, Messiaen, and Paquito D’Rivera. I even presented a solo piano recital where Eve Kodiak, after performing Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, asked the audience to share titles of episodes from their own childhoods. Then Eve improvised a whole new suite, a sort of “playback” of their personal childhood scenes.

Our society is hungry for meaningful experiences. People will come back to classical music concerts if they think there’s a good chance they’ll have another moving experience. I would use the Entrepreneur the Arts funding to reach a wider audience through orchestral concerts, CD’s, and radio.

It’s been challenging to persuade established musical organizations that incorporating the Inside Out format could help them bring in and build a new audience base for classical music in America. Alan Brown, director of Audience Insight said, “What you have here, Eli, is a lever to get people into the concert hall again and again.”

Eli Epstein
www.eliepstein.com

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  1. I agree with Alan Brown! What a marvelous way to provide so much more than entertainment… engaging, experiential music that makes genius material and its historical context accessible to the common person by connecting it in such a personal and contemporary way.

    Please let me know if Inside Out comes to Minnesota — I’d love to attend one of your concerts!

  2. Eli,
    Your Inside Out Project is one of the most interesting and exciting things I have ever heard of! I applaud you for your creativity and for the incredible service this is going to be for anyone involved. As someone who has also devoted my life to music performance and achieved many of the things I originally sought, I can completely relate in every way with your concerns about the audience-performer relationship and all the other stumbling blocks for both audience and performer in this unique music world of ours. I would very much like to hear more about your project and wish you the utmost success with it.

    Sincerely,

    Bernhard Scully

  3. I performed the Brahms Horn Trio the year that my grandmother died and felt very connected to the musical/emotional experience of the third movement; however, I did not succeed in effectively sharing my experience (and inevitably their own experiences!) with the audience. How simple and essential it now seems to bring the audience in on that little “secret.” As performers, we have a responsibility not only to perform the music but also to connect the listeners to the fundamental human experiences that music conveys. I am inspired by Inside Out’s example and will surely consider this sort of approach in my own ensembles moving forward. Thank you, Eli!

  4. Classical music has enriched my life in ways I cannot even begin to fathom. But it has always troubled me that the concerts I value so highly feel intimidating to people who grew up outside this tradition. Centuries of human experience are built into this art form, and we will be losing so much collectively if we can’t bust open today’s stuffy concert practices and let classical music be a meaningful experience for anyone who cares to hear it. Inside Out seems like a perfect avenue to address this concern and introduce classical music to new audiences as something that can be just as much about their lives as an 18th-century wig-wearer’s.

  5. […] was recently pointed to a post in Entrepreneur The Arts where Eli describes Inside Out. The whole article is worth looking over as a part of thinking over […]

  6. Inside-Out concerts are a wonderful idea! I’ve attended three of them and they’ve changed the way I listen to classical music. I’ve had the experience of seeing some of my friends and family bored with classical music. It doesn’t have to be boring! Inside-Out concerts help those that may struggle with understanding and connecting to classical music gain insight and begin to engage on an emotional level with the music. The people I’ve talked with after the Inside-Out concerts have been moved and really enjoyed the experience.
    Recently I heard that a more modern piece was performed at one of the concerts. Not only did the audience engage with the more “difficult music” but they enjoyed the experience! I think it’s wonderful that through these concerts more people are able to connect with, understand, and enjoy classical music.

    Mr. Epstein’s Inside-Out approach clearly helps to engage and impact those it reaches! It sounds like The Entrepreneurial Artist Contest would be a great way to help Inside-Out concerts reach more people.

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