Low Attendance at Stony Brook Recital Hall Events

(An example of a Stony Brook University student recital)

I’ll admit that I initially wanted to kick myself for designating the campus music department as my area of coverage for my beat reporting class last semester.

After all, I was already in a rock band on campus, and listened to music about as often as I practiced the hobby of breathing. Harboring dreams of interviewing hard rock greats for Rolling Stone, I was convinced that my music addiction fully qualified me to bullet-point the scream-shrouded subtleties of rock into story form.

In short, I didn’t sign on to write about classical music, but contemporary rock.

However, once I got around to actually pitching and writing stories, (as opposed to passively thinking about writing stories) I realized something that perhaps should have struck me on the head from the start: I’m actually IN a campus band, and I still don’t have a clue about the campus rock scene.

Therefore, it was off to the realm of student recitals and string quartets for me.

Oh, I did my fair share of complaining-I’m sure there’s a battery of Facebook statuses and off-the-cuff A.I.M. messages out there that can boldly attest to that.

Ten years of viola-playing and general musical nerdiness, however, sneakily caught up with me, and after my first Stony Brook student recital (a graduate viola player, oddly enough) I was, as lame as this sounds, mesmerized.

Half a year later, I’m actually volunteering to write about things like that for the Independent.

Last week, I attended former Stony Brook doctoral student Conor Nelson’s flute recital, a celebratory gig for a $10,000 grant that he won this year for his contributions to the music department.


Nelson played beautifully.

I don’t even know how else to say it. I hadn’t known that it was possible to extract such a lush tone and range of dynamics on a wind instrument, that someone could actually pull tones from a flute that were both percussive and angelic at the same time.

Even now, it still kind of baffles me.

(Nelson performs at Oklahoma State University, where he now teaches)

Despite the prestige of the event and the talent of the performer, however, a diminutive total of around 30 people showed up to the 370-seat recital hall.

I think it’s pretty sad to say that this is by far the best turnout that I’ve ever seen at a Stony Brook music recital.

Furthermore, I’d say about a third of that crowd fell under the 65 and older demographic, certainly much older than the performer himself and certainly not a group that was in any way composed of Stony Brook music students.

What then, is the problem?

The fact is the music department itself receives barren coverage within the campus media sector. I actually wrote a story last semester in which I tried to get to the bottom of this very issue: why don’t more students (music students in particular) go to recitals? Is it due to lack of promotion, or are students just flat out not interested in attending?

From what I can recall, it was really more of the former.

I’d put the odds at 80-20. (80 percent lack of advertising, 20 percent pure laziness).

Yes, I understand that not everybody is going to be into classical music on a college campus–one of the main points of my story last semester was that advertisements for these kinds of events never really make it to the mainstream, due in large part to the department’s financial commitment to promote their ticketed events, and a miniscule publicity budget.

My main concern, however, is the fact I didn’t see a whole lot of undergraduate music students at these events in the past. Director of Concerts and Community Events Michael Hershkowitz told me during an interview that at James Madison University, where he studied trombone as an undergrad, attendance at student recitals was mandatory.

“There was a rigid attendance policy,” he said. “You had to go to about 20 recitals per semester, and the ushers would punch off a card as you came in, so there was no getting around that. You’d have all the students who were required to attend plus family, friends and teachers in a 150-seat auditorium, and that would be your audience.”

Of course, advertising for all of the music department’s events with equal vigor would be unrealistic, as well. According to Hershkowitz, the department schedules roughly 250 recitals per semester to be performed by the majority of the 255 masters and doctoral students pursuing a degree in music performance. In addition, all are free and open to the public.

“There can sometimes be up to four recitals a day,” he said. “There’s a concept called marketing saturation which states that if you promote all events with the same degree of emphasis, they all lose emphasis, and it becomes impossible to bring audiences in for anything.”

Because these events are free, however, I think they would be a phenomenal way to introduce a variety of students to a world they might never have otherwise explored.

It’s completely understandable that the department needs to promote its ‘pay’ events in this economy, but it would be nice if there were more publicity towards students outside of the music department.

Right now, I feel like the music department is really somewhat isolated. Even as I went to recitals in the past, I always felt vaguely out of place. The department, from what I’ve observed in the past, exists pretty exclusively within its own niche. The whole time I was sitting in the audience, for example, it just felt as though an alarm would go off over my head indicating that I wasn’t a major, and that dark-suited security officials would promptly escort me out of the recital hall.

This is by no means an attack on the policies of the music department-I’ve been to my fair share of events, which have led to believe that the talent is huge.

I’m simply stating that it’s quite sad Mr. Nelson, who essentially just won one of the music department’s highest honors, had to perform in front of a crowd of 30. That’s not at all what I’d call a small crowd for a typical recital hall event, but in my opinion, all 370 seats could have been occupied.

The applause alone, after all, sounded like it came from a crowd of just that number.

Here’s a look at the student recital schedule for this month.

chartScreenshot: http://naples.cc.sunysb.edu/CAS/music.nsf/pages/srs

If you have the time, why not stop by and show some support for our music majors?


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