Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui

Anne Ku reflects on the decisions and steps required to produce a concert, specifically, the first and second classical guitar concerts at Maui College.

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It is entirely possible to make an event happen without being there. If we’re to deconstruct the steps to produce an event such as a classical guitar concert, we can see what it takes in the following phases.

‘Ike Le‘a, the new science building at UH Maui College

Phase I: 2013 – Contact, Connection, Commitment, Collaboration

As the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there is a way,” the stronger the intention, the greater the commitment to make it happen. I had a strong urge to meet Ben Verdery, after seeing his name and annual summer guitar classes pop up on search engines long before I moved to Maui.

When I finally got the chance to meet Ben with the barefoot guitarists in Makena, I was impressed but also puzzled. Why Makena? Why not Kahului where the bulk of Maui’s residents live? If he wants to inspire local residents, he must come to Kahului. Most of all, has he ever set foot on University of Hawaii Maui College? Has there ever been a connection between Yale University and the only institution of higher education in Maui County, serving the islands of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai?

At the end of the concert in Makena in July 2013, I invited Ben to visit our campus. We had just opened a new building, designed by zealous members of our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) faculty who wanted a state-of-the-art space customized for science and engineering classes and labs. Could the new lecture theatre have the desirable acoustics for a classical guitar concert?

Although Ben didn’t have his guitar with him to test this beautiful new space, the idea of a concert was planted.

A few months later, after several e-mail exchanges, Ben and his right-hand man John Olson set up a tele-conference with me and Oahu-based guitarist and composer Ian O’Sullivan. We discussed dates, possibilities, and intention. Born and raised on Oahu, Ian was keen to share his knowledge and experience with local youths. He had won a scholarship to Yale University to study under Ben and then returned to Oahu to teach and perform — a brilliant model for our students.

Unknowingly, we had agreed to collaborate — to make the first classical guitar concert happen at UH Maui College.

Phase II: 2014 – The Internal Sell – who will help make the concert happen

I had this burning desire to share something I knew only too well — the unplugged, unamplified acoustic sound of the classical guitar in a beautiful space to touch, move, and inspire the audience. If these high-caliber musicians were willing to travel to Maui and give a performance without charge, all that’s left was to get the audience they deserved.

At Maui College, except for one 3-credit music course taught in the month of June, none of us who teach music during the academic year are employed in the summer period. I, for one, look forward to spending three months off-island. None of my colleagues on 9-month salaries are obliged to be on campus. If I’m not around in July, who can I get to be on site to make the concert happen?

I approached my colleagues for help: one to book the room, coordinate with the artists, and be on duty on site on the day; the other to edit and send out the press release and promote the event through the college’s marketing channels.

Classical Guitar Concert, UHMC ‘Ike Le‘a Lecture Theatre, July 10, 2015 Photo: David Fisher

Phase III: Audience Development – how to fill a hall

While there are summer camps and summer courses, student and staff numbers are substantially reduced during the summer months at the college. Can we get enough people to attend a concert to make a difference? And if so, which day of the week and what time of day is most optimal?

The musicians were available on a Friday. Perhaps a lunch time concert would enable those working in Kahului to attend.

Audience development, the art of getting people to participate, can be done off-site. The following methods use traditional and non-traditional media to get the word out.

First, create a press release. John Olson produced the first draft with information about the artists, the music, Ben Verdery and his summer guitar classes, impressive information and anecdotes. To this content, we obtained quotes from different stakeholders and painted a compelling story to catch the attention of those who may attend and also get others to attend. Second, attach high-resolution photographs to send to local publications.

Once the core content is there, we can then post a blog with photos that can be linked for further promotions, e-mail our students and staff, print posters and pin them in places people would stop and read (public libraries, bathrooms, bulletin boards), e-mail public service announcements (PSA) to radio stations that commanded the kind of audience that would attend such an event, use Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to promote, list on the college’s website, get the performers to mention the concert to their fans, and invite people by word-of-mouth, personal e-mails, texts, and face-to-face.

There is a moment when you’ve done everything you possibly can, but you have a queasy feeling that it’s not enough. You still don’t know who will show up. You’re unsure if the hall will be filled. The last thing you want is to involve so many people, put in all this effort, and have a disappointing turnout.

Free events don’t oblige anyone to do what they say. They can say that they will be there but not show up. They can say they won’t attend and change their mind. Facebook event invitations don’t guarantee anything.

Program Cover (click image for PDF)

Phase IV: 2015 – Second Time Around – poster, program notes, post-concert reception

The July 2014 concert was a success. I heard about it from my colleagues and students. High art. I would go again. It’s one of the few events that really moved me. High standard. You could tell they’ve spent a lifetime practicing and perfecting their art.

Encouraged by this, I tried to make it happen a second time. I toyed with the possibility of a different location and a different day of week and time of day. The two alternative location “owners” were supportive but one was uncertain of renovation plans while the other had scheduled to be off-island.

My colleague in music couldn’t guarantee he would be around. Who else would be willing to be in charge of this event as I once again would be absent?

I asked my colleague Joyce Yamada, a keen supporter of the arts, who has organized many events for professional development. We met to discuss our vision of how the concert would take place. We voted for an afternoon concert, so people could stay for a post-concert reception. We agreed that I would do as much as I could before my departure for the summer holidays and she’d take care of the rest. She would book the same lecture theatre in the new science building. [But it turned out that room booking was not a simple matter.]

Nicole Beattie, the marketing director, committed to helping us once again with the press release, getting it published, and using the college’s website and social media engines to spread the word. The interim vice-chancellor of student affairs agreed to do color printing for us. We asked the new chancellor to help us fund a post-concert reception and purchase leis to thank the guests. He couldn’t wait say yes to our request despite being unable to attend the concert.

Joyce thought it would be good to have program notes this time around. Something for people to hang on to, she said. It would also be good to print posters. At first, I was reluctant, for it meant involving more people and volunteering more of my time on a concert I couldn’t attend. Posters needed to be designed, printed and distributed. Pinning posters required walking around campus, driving around town and getting permissions to post.

I asked my new arts colleague Gwen Arkin if she’d design a logo for the concert. She readily agreed. After a few iterations, she gave us a high-resolution poster for printing and electronic files for website upload and e-mail distribution and images for use in the program booklet.

Creating the program notes involved liaising with John Olson, the point of contact for the three guitarists. We needed information about the music, titles and composers, and artist biographies. Unbeknownst to me, Joyce was good at and enjoyed laying out text and graphics for program notes. Decisions had to be made about what to put on the back page, a prime spot to announce our music courses, professional development, career services and my student success television series. We consulted with our marketing director for input and final proofreading.

Click to get 2-page PDF

As a last step, I sent a “Maui Announcements” e-mail to all 660 present and former colleagues subscribed to this internal listserv. I e-mailed all my previous students, encouraging them to attend and spread the word. I compiled a 2-page handout of our Fall 2015 music course schedule and description, as insert in the program booklet. I used the social media tools available to me to promote the concert: Music at UH Maui website, Music at UH Maui Facebook page, Maui Tips Twitter, Blogmaiden Twitter, my personal website, and the Concertblog website.

With that last step, I handed over the concert to Joyce to coordinate. She was now responsible for liaising with the artists, preparing the venue (the lecture hall and adjacent classroom for the artists), ordering the leis, the food and refreshments for the post-concert reception, handing out the program and insert, and cleaning up. David Fisher, the only music colleague who could attend the concert, was happy to take on the important role of Master of Ceremony.

Phase V: Follow-up – reviews, photos, videos, and acknowledgements

I left Maui on July 2nd with one outstanding concern. Who was going to write a review of the July 10th concert? I was sure there would be photos. But a written review?

By coincidence, one of my students e-mailed me because he hadn’t submitted a concert review last semester. Here was a fine opportunity to make up for that.

In the next post, I share Tyler’s review.

Final Bow, July 10, 2015. From left: Ben Verdery, Christopher Mallett, Aaron Cardenas, Ian O’Sullivan. Photo: David Fisher

Press & Website coverage

July 10, 2015 Concert

July 25, 2014 Concert

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

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