Eight years ago, I gave a paper on “house concerts for art music” to economists in love with music in Copenhagen. Today, Groupmuse is one of the grassroot initiatives that intermediates between artists and venue owners to realise such a concept. On Maui, I know of a clarinettist who produces these concerts from his home — always sold out. In and around Utrecht, I know of at least two. What are the issues that confront turning your private space into a concert venue for the public?
Not everyone has the appetite to share his or her own private space to strangers. Think of inviting not one stranger but many strangers to fill your living space for several hours. Why would you do it? Unless you are a musician and music aficionado, or trying to sell your house or show it off, there is no reason to open your home in this way.
I experienced my first house concert as both a performer and guest in Houston. Playing in front of an audience becomes a performance. Without the audience it’s just practice, unless it’s being recorded or broadcast. As a member of the audience, I felt privileged to be invited into someone’s home, that is, someone’s private, intimate space, to experience a live performance. The colleagues and neighbours I brought that evening were awed by it. They wanted to pay but didn’t know how. They were not asked. The musicians who organised this impromptu concert hadn’t thought about charging for the event, for it was an experiment in spontaneous self-expression. The owner of the space was a pianist with two Steinway grand pianos. She also performed. She was used to opening her home for live performances and rehearsals.
Could it be that musicians are more willing to open their homes than non-musicians? Or rather, those who have experienced house concerts are more inclined to open their homes?
Unless you have experienced a house concert, you wouldn’t know what it’s about, what it feels like. It’s like turning your home into an art gallery or a concert hall. The home is not destined for such purposes. Why do it?
I began organising house concerts shortly after that first concert experience in Houston. At first, it was to thank the Houston-based composer. I organised his first concert in London — in my home. Later, I organised so I could perform. I paid for everything, so the concerts, food, and drinks were all free. I had a full-time salary doing something non-music related, so organising house concerts became a hobby. I got the chance to perform, premiere my own compositions, and play chamber music with the musicians I met.
Where is the division between private and public? I was not concerned about security, safety, or privacy. My home was a place to store my things, as I was travelling most of the time for my job. I could afford to get it cleaned. As my grand piano sat in the living room, it was nice to use it for such purposes.
I’ve since met music aficionados that turned their one-bedroom apartments into concert space and art exhibits. Live music performances brought traffic to their art exhibit. Wine tasting was another bonus to attract attendees. Needless to say, there are numerous reasons why anyone would open their homes to the public.
After several consecutive years of hosting house concerts in London and the Netherlands, I was relieved that my space on Maui was tiny. I didn’t have a piano at home. I didn’t feel the urge to perform at home or host any events. I organised one small, intimate concert in the living room of the first apartment in Wailuku, for three guests. After that, my next two abodes were completely private. That is not to say, I didn’t perform in other people’s homes. It felt good to get my privacy back.