I think it’s important to use all of these incredible online social media networking tools to help create real-time live musical events in all kinds of small communities around the world—not retreat into the online world and shy away from the real world, but use it to create more opportunities within the community!
Violinist Edwin Huizinga takes a collaborative, community-centred approach to planning concert events. Read about his forays in different musical genres and his grassroots attitude toward the performing arts.
Tell us about yourself. What is your interest or involvement in the performing arts?
I’ve been playing violin since I was five. The last few years have been a really exciting time because I have been sharing the stage with friends in the rock-and-roll, indie, baroque, classical, contemporary, and even improvisational communities. It is a very different and new world out there for the performing arts, and I am excited to be a part of it!
Can you tell us about Classical Revolution? As a founding member of the group, what was your motivation for starting it?
Classical Revolution is a worldwide network of musicians organizing and reaching out to their communities and making performances of all sorts happening in the community. When I moved to San Francisco in 2006, my friend Charith Premawardhana—who also founded the network—and I met a few people with the same interest: playing music together. We started playing in a beautiful cafe called the Revolution Cafe in the Mission District every Sunday evening, rain or shine. And so it began.
The idea of playing music in small venues is centuries old. Take chamber music, which was meant to be played in a small room—hence the name. Nowadays people perform chamber music in these massive concert halls. On top of the fact that the chances of people actually going to a classical music hall aren’t great these days, audiences just don’t get the same visceral reaction or emotion in these grand places as they would in an intimate setting, such as a café or art gallery. And it’s more affordable. Also, I really feel the performance is more memorable in smaller, intimate situations, and have heard this reaction from people time and time again after playing these events.
These kinds of informal settings, I think, also make performers more comfortable, especially when they’re on tour by themselves, as it allows them to reach out to people. When I was at a Classical Revolution event in San Francisco, a young lady came up and asked if she could play, so she joined us. There were no rules, just good music, and she was fantastic. It turned out that she was the principal violist in the Berlin Philharmonic.
We are simply trying to find new, interesting, and unique ways to share the love and excitement and incredible qualities of classical music. The motivation is simple: the love of music and the desire to share it with the world.
What projects or upcoming events are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on getting together with art galleries and curators and working with them to organize joint events of music and art. All the arts are amazing—dance, music, visual—and not that different from one another, and I would like to try and find more ways to crisscross all of these art forms. In addition, I am working with some Classical Revolution colleagues from North America and Europe on a small East Coast tour in the new year, and finding ways to help network with other small ensemble tours as well, ones that don’t have the funding or the draw (yet!) to entice big chamber concert series and presenters.
I am also in an indie band called the Wooden Sky; part of a concert series in Toronto called the Academy concert series; in a baroque ensemble based in San Francisco called Passamezzo Moderno; playing with a chamber orchestra in New York called the Knights; often on stage with Tafelmusik; and an occasional guest director and concertmaster with baroque ensembles and chamber orchestras in Europe and North America. I’m just trying to play all the time!
Being on the road so much for the last few years has been exciting—developing networks of musicians that might want to play or perform or jam together is really exciting. Plus, collaborations lead to more audiences and more creativity: you get different sets of ideas and different crowds to draw from.
What do you see as the main challenges for those in the performing arts?
The main challenge I see in the performing arts today is definitely concert presenters stuck in their old ways and musicians not willing to really work on creating their own concert opportunities and building their own audiences. Don’t get me wrong. I work with some really amazing organizations with incredible agents and providing amazing opportunities, but not enough to build a life on, and not enough to fulfill my desires of performing for and in the communities I live in and travel through.
I think we have to work on reaching out and into the community because most people these days simply don’t know anything about classical music, and don’t have the time or energy or knowledge to seek it out. Personally, I think that classical music is awesome, so I feel that there is a responsibility to try and help reach out to these people. The daunting thing is … there are a lot of people to reach out to. But the exciting thing is they are all potential audience members.
Do you have an example or examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself as a composer or event organizer? How did you overcome them?
As a performer I have faced many challenges. One of the key ones is when I get called for a gig and I’m placed within a group of musicians working with many different people, but there is a general lack of excitement. I feel that the music world suffers in a situation like this. I think it is our job to perform with all of our hearts. It is our job to get up on stage and take ownership of the piece we are performing and the group we are in and give 100 per cent. Or as I would say to some of my friends, “Let’s kill it tonight!” What are we killing? We’re just giving everything we can give.
I think that to make a show as powerful and exciting as possible, it’s important that it feels like a collaborative effort and part of a family of artists and musicians working together to put on a great show. With many things in the commercial world, there are so many tools used to sell things. For concerts, these could be airbrushes, lights, fog machines, lasers, big names in the field, fancy promoters, anything really. If everyone is involved and “owning” their own part, then the performance will feel alive and it really just sells itself. I think people are inherently able to feel something real happening, and although they might not be able to put a finger on exactly what is going on, they will be back for more.
As an organizer, I experience all of the regular problems really: money, space, and an audience. But I think one of the important things we can do is to brew a sense of community into the show you are going to give and make everyone involved super excited to be part of it and to share it with their friends.
For example, last year I organized a show at Gallery 345 in Toronto, and invited musician friends, both local and international, to perform. The first thing I did was choose a community—Roncesvalles—to focus on and got people from different circles involved. Lara Downes from California, Sacha Rattle from Berlin, and some local friends in Toronto all collaborated to make the show happen. My friend Nathan Isberg, who owns a restaurant in that area called The Atlantic, donated amazing food. An artist friend helped with the bit of publicity we did. And everyone helped with the promotion. It was a real community affair.
One of the problems with how concerts are organized normally is that there’s very little chance for connections to be made between audiences and the musicians. Say the concert starts at 8; you go in at 7:50, watch musician X play X pieces, go home, and that’s it. But if there’s a sense of community to the event like the one I organized, if people get a chance to talk to the musicians or those involved in the show over food during intermission or reception, if they’re involved in some way in the show so that their family and friends want to attend, then there’s a real chance for those connections to be made and for that evening to be one not only to remember but to want more of! It was also a fusion of arts—which I’m always looking to do—with food as art. It was a great success!
The challenges are also different between genres because different genres have molded into such different types of audiences and communities, and when you’re performing or organizing a concert, you have to realize this.
The indie scene now in Toronto or Canada or even the world is such a tight-knit community. Many people are aware of and interested in what others are creating and performing, and the scene is very community based. Take folk festivals, for example. Mitch Podolak (he founded a couple of the biggest folk festivals in Canada) and I have sat down and talked about how the folk festival is banded around the simple idea of community and volunteers. What is a volunteer? I have come to realize that a volunteer is not necessarily just someone who can’t afford the show and wants a pass into the concert or someone that is a diehard music fan, but much more is someone who is really interested in being part of the community—their own community.
The classical music world is, as I see it, much more individual based with performers and concert presenters constantly fighting for their own audiences. It doesn’t have the same level of sharing and networking that the indie world has. Also, I think more young people are actively seeking out rock-and-roll performances more often than classical, so as a “classical revolutioner” organizing events, I need to push way harder sometimes to make a show successful and packed and sweaty!
What would you like to see happen in support of the performing arts, and why should it be supported?
Well, I would love to see more and more excitement for it, but I’m not going to wait for that to happen. I’m just going to try and curate and organize and be a part of as many different things that I can to make it happen! Why should it be supported? Come out to an event and, hopefully, enough said.
What role do you see BeMused playing in supporting the performing arts community?
I see BeMused becoming a forum for musicians, artists, and people in the community to hear about projects, concerts, ideas, and to share them. I see it as something that can bring people with like-minded ideas together.
I think it’s important to use all of these incredible online social media networking tools to help create real-time live musical events in all kinds of small communities around the world—not retreat into the online world and shy away from the real world, but use it to create more opportunities within the community! The best reactions from people and connections with them (the kind that ultimately leads to willingness to go to future shows to see more of what you do) happens when people are there for real.
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?
Maybe that you should practice more when you’re young, because when you spend half the year on the road, between hotels, flights, van rides, sound checks, shows, rehearsals, eating, and partying, it’s hard to find time to practice.
Also, I wish people had taught me more about the importance of creating opportunities to make what you love happen—I mean, loving what you do is awesome, but without sharing it with people, the effect you can have on the world becomes very small.
One more thing: be open. Check out anything, even if it is the weirdest slam poetry session in the basement of someone’s house in Berlin (without a real address). It’s really great to know what’s out there and that there really is absolutely no limit to what you can do.
If you are intrigued by Edwin Huizinga’s Q & A and would like to check out his work, he will be playing at an Academy series chamber music concert at Eastminster United Church on Saturday, December 1, 8 p.m., as well as with indie band Wooden Sky at the Phoenix at 11 p.m. on the same day.
***Did you find this piece insightful? What are your thoughts and experiences about the use of social media or a community-based approach in the performing arts? Your comments are welcome! If you’re all for an innovative community-based approach to presenting performing arts, sign up for BeMused and be the first to know when we launch!