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Small is Beautiful

October 29, 2007

Last night, San Francisco Renaissance Voices sang in front of an audience in Palo Alto that was roughly the same size of the choral ensemble. Considering that the group, in which I sing contralto, has less than 20 people in it, Sunday's turnout really says something.

But what exactly does it say? That the group isn't any good? (The concert we performed in San Francisco on Saturday evening was packed out. There were probably about 200 people in the house, which suggests that we're not all that bad.) That PR was sadly lacking on a busy Halloween weekend? (Could be the case.) That spending a couple of hours in a cold church listening to 16th century dirges doesn't sound like a fun way to spend an evening? (I personally can't think of a better way to spend a Halloween than thinking about the lost art of mourning, but then again, I have strange tastes.)

Who knows.

What I do know is that even if there had been one or two people in the audience, giving that concert would have been worth it. Scanning the sparsely-populated room last night, peoples' faces looked ecstatic. They seemed genuinely moved by what we were singing. That's enough for me.

If the work is of quality and people are touched, then the size of the audience doesn't matter all that much. Just read Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail, and you'll understand why. This is more or less the point I'm planning to make tomorrow when I meet with an editor who believes that work needs to have a mass appeal in order to merit appearing in his publication. He judges success by the number of page hits an item gets on the publication's website. This is false logic. I plan to set him straight.


  • oh queenie contralto,

    There is a poster that asks what difference it makes to throw back a starfish that has been stranded; washed up on a shore to surely dry out and die. There are so many of them. Who cares? Well, it answers itself, the starfish that gets thrown back. That's who cares.

    Somehow, I think, this relates to your question of audience quantity in Palo Alto.

    Yes, if what you are doing is political in nature and you are looking to sway the masses, yes, you need them all to come. To listen. To hear. To act.

    But I think that is called propaganda.

    Your editor, interested in "mass appeal" may be in it for the money. I doubt his mass sway fetish is political in nature. So it must be something else.

    I think that is called commerce. Commercial. And to what end is that?

    Whether or not your group is any good is a matter of individual opinion. Isn't something pure often lost in becoming populist?

    Granted, there is something to be said for the energy given back by a large invigorated audience. But that feedback is not always directly related to size, is it?

    If there were thousands, or only one or two starfish stranded in the audience, it may very well make a difference to only one of them. And what a difference that difference can make.

    Keep up the mourning,

    mr. stick

    P.S. Spending a couple of hours in a cold church listening to 16th century dirges does sound like a fun way to spend an evening. Let us know when that happens again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 30, 2007 at 1:39 PM  

  • thanks for your thoughts about starfish, propaganda, and 16th century dirges mr. stick. i wonder if it's possible to have a mass audience scenario which isn't somehow trampled underfoot by the thundering hooves of commerce? The environmental movement has become prone to this of late, though many would argue that the commercial side of that movement is helping to get the word out and save the planet...
    Hope to see you at a concert someday.

    By Blogger Chloe Veltman, At October 30, 2007 at 5:15 PM  

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