Benefit concerts to fundraise for Japan

The economics of benefit concerts is the subject of another blog. Three benefit concerts in Boston, Amsterdam, and London are taking place this week 30 March – 6 April, showcasing a wide range of talent and genre from classical to rock.


The earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on 11th March 2011 has ignited various fundraising events for the Red Cross and other relief organisations. Among them are benefit concerts organised by musicians.

At time of writing, I have been notified of three forthcoming benefit concerts for Japan that are initiated and/or given by my musician friends. It’s a brave undertaking that requires extra effort beyond a normal concert.  As I am unable to attend any of these concerts due to my current location in Maui, I share these here and invite my readers to pass it on.

Wednesday 30 March 2011 @ 5:30  pm
Church of St. John the Evangelist
35 Bowdoin Street, Boston

Thursday 31st March 2011 @ 7 pm
JP Concerts
1 Roanoke Avenue, Jamaica Plain (a neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Linda Kernohan, composer, pianist, organist, and prolific blogger of Miss Music Nerd, will be giving two concerts in Boston. I met Linda at the  first concert of 5-week USA tour on 21st  October 2010. Her husband had worked in Okinawa, where I spent 11 years of my youth. Since meeting Linda, I have followed her on Twitter and her blog. The concert features herself on the organ together with a host of other musicians, including countertenor Yakov Zamir.

Miss Music Nerd, Linda Kernohan flute extract from her website
Miss Music Nerd, Linda Kernohan flute extract from her website

Friday 1st April 2011 @ 8:30 pm
Amstelveen (a neighbourhood of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Doors open 8 pm for 8:30 pm start
Pop concert at Poppodium P60

Keiko Kotari, my classmate from Utrecht Conservatory, and her husband Marten Tilstra, both concert pianists initiated this charity pop concert. Keiko was in Kobe when the previous big earthquake hit Japan in 1995.

I had immediately assumed when Keiko mentioned her intention to organise a charity concert on the Facebook wall that it would be a classical concert and that she would play. What a surprise to learn last week that it was to be a jazz, latin, rock and pop concert.

The concert features highly acclaimed blind Dutch pianist Bert van den Brink whose performances have inspired many people. I don’t know the other musicians, but you can hear the sultry voice of Latin singer Denise Rivera here. The website of the 5-member experimental rock band NiCad takes awhile to load, but it’s worth visiting to see how they met and skyrocketed to fame. The concert ends with the 14-member party band “Night Flight to Rio.”

Tickets are € 15 and can be ordered through the website of P60. The complete revenue of this concert will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross, for immediate relief for the victims in Miyagi prefecture. More info at SOS Japan Website.

SOS Japan Benefit Concert, Amstelveen, Netherlands 1st April 2011
SOS Japan Benefit Concert, Amstelveen, Netherlands 1st April 2011

Wednesday 6th April 2011 @ 7:30 pm
Central London (near Warren Street tube station)
Bolivar Hall, 54 Grafton Way

Algerian singer and artist Houria Niati and her duo Habiboun will be performing in a mega concert featuring many artists of that genre: flamenco, arab-andalucian, and latin music. Tickets are 12 pounds each by reservation or at the door.

Aid for Japan concert in central London, Bolibar Hall 6th April 2011
Aid for Japan concert in central London, Bolivar Hall 6th April 2011

The economics of benefit concerts is the topic of another blog. Concert production is an activity that involves high transaction costs. Benefit concerts require that extra mile to attract people to come, get people to pay, and generate the income that more than breaks even.

One way is to ask musicians give their time and talent (for free or for a reduced fee) while the public (the listeners) pay more than what they would normally pay for such a concert, resulting in above average income for a good cause. For this to work optimally (i.e maximise the funds raised), the venues should have large capacity and need to be filled. Listeners are persuaded to give as much as possible to maximise revenue. Profit maximisation requires not just revenue maximisation but cost minimisation or elimination. In other words, hire the venue for free, get piano tuners to tune without charge, get additional sponsors to defray other production costs, and get all of this done as efficiently as possible.

Speed to market: how fast to get a gig?

How long does it take to get a concert? If you find the right person, it could be immediate. If you persist and if you have the right contacts … you can also get a full house if you’re not careful!

Musicians who can sightread, improvise, or have memorised works they can readily perform don’t need a lead time to prepare for a concert performance.  Yet concert engagements don’t happen overnight. There is a certain lead time to book a concert and a lead time to get the audience.

I interviewed a classical music aficionado last Friday about his house concert series as material to add to my ongoing research on house concerts and salon concerts. Towards the end of our phone conversation, I mentioned that classical guitarist Robert Bekkers was going to be in town. Would he care to organise a concert in his home?

His first reaction was very positive. Yes! He would love to. When I told him the date, he withdrew and said he could not manage to organise his schedule and home to make it happen. He would prefer a month to 6 weeks notice.

Indeed, if you have to turn your home into a concert venue, you do need time to clear up and clean up. If you have a full-time job, you do need to make space to organise a concert event in your free time.

Undeterred, I googled to find other candidates.

That Friday 11th February 2011, I e-mailed a non-profit organisation that had put on such intimate classical music concerts for raising funds for the cause they’re championing.

Before I went to bed, I noticed I had received an e-mail reply.

The very next morning, I was woken up by a call from the lady in charge. We spoke for over 40 minutes about the possibilities of collaborating. I told her that I was the gateway to some of the best musicians on the planet.

On Sunday, I sent her links and material she could use to convince the new board members about doing a concert.

On Monday, she had her board meeting.

On Tuesday, she e-mailed me to ask if the Mr Bekkers was available the following Wednesday to give a concert. She would get her real estate advisory council to find a suitable location.

On Wednesday, I replied that indeed he was available and happy to give a concert.

In less than 12 hours, she and the chairman of her real estate advisory council had not only found a venue but also managed to get half the tickets sold.

How’s that for speed to market? If everything is in place, a gig can happen overnight.

Robert Bekkers gives a solo concert in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday 23rd February 2011 at 7 pm.

Holiday greetings: the gift of music

Another kind of holiday greeting is the gift of music. Denver-based singer and composer Melissa Axel and tuba player James Jacoby share their original tune “Sleigh Ride in Bora Bora” with the world. Download any of the 3 versions for free and pass it around. Support their fund raising campaign for their forthcoming debut album.

Here is an original Christmas tune written and performed by the multi-talented singer/songwriter Melissa Axel and her partner, James Jacoby, tuba player and augmented by their back-up band of vocals, violin, percussion, and more. There’s also an instrumental version and a karaoke version with lyrics.

Bora Bora is a tropical island in the South Pacific. I had googled it when I first moved to the small Dutch village of Bussum in January 2004. It was a symbol of escape from the short and dark winter days that lay ahead. The idea of flying to Tahiti  — somewhere on the other side of the world — occupied my mind and fueled my daydreams.

For Denver-based composer Melissa Axel and her team, perhaps the idea of Bora Bora, such a contrast from the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and below-freezing weather conditions, also keeps them dreaming of the warmer days to come. Certainly, Robert and I are living their dream in Hawaii.

How does a sleigh operate without snow? Well, here’s the clue:

we’ll still find a way to have our Christmas
stringing leis on palm trees by the sea
tie this rope around the sleigh, help me hitch it to the boat
we don’t need no reindeer, and we sure don’t need no snow
we’ll turn this Bali Hai into a Bali Ho-Ho-Ho
it’s a sleigh ride in Bora Bora

Listening to this song put a smile to my face. Here we are — not quite in Bora Bora — but in the tropics nevertheless. Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands. It’s not a white Christmas but a blue one with perfect surfing conditions.

Axel and Jacoby’s gift of music is a free for all. Download it. Pass it on to your friends. Share it on facebook.

If you like their music, check out their fundraising campaign for their debut album.

Fundraise for a cause

There are different ways to raise the necessary funding required for a cause. Three examples are explored here: Maui Choral Arts, Melissa Axel, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Bali medicine woman. Musicians require funding too.

My recent blogs about Maui Choral Arts fundraising for a matching donation and Denver-based Melissa Axel using Kickstarter to raise funds for her debut album had me thinking about the topic of fundraising.

In less than a week since its announcement, Maui Choral Arts has reached its target of $1,111 (i.e. before 11th Jan 2011) and will be matched by an anonymous donor.

Meanwhile Melissa Axel changed her target date to 2nd January 2011, to reach the goal of $7,000.

While Maui Choral Arts’ fund raising campaign announced at its recent concert (OFFLINE), Melissa Axel conducted hers online through her website, Kickstarter, Facebook, and other social network media.

In the book “Eat, Pray, Love” author Liz Gilbert used e-mail to raise capital to help a local medicine woman in Bali. She wrote to all her friends that’s what she wanted for her birthday, and she’d personally match whatever is raised. A friend of hers offered to double it. In a short period of time, she raised $18,000.

How are all these three examples similar?

1. They specify the cause they are raising money for. These are justifiable causes for survival.

2. The money has to be there BEFORE the goals can be reached. Maui Choral Arts needs money for its next season. Melissa Axel needs funding to record and release her debut album. Liz Gilbert’s Balinese friend needs money to buy a home.

3. The fundraisers ALREADY have a wide network of people, i.e. potential donors or friends of donors. The audience at Maui Choral Arts concert filled the church completely. The singers, instrumentalists, listeners, and others present had their own contacts. They could all be disciples of the fundraising cause if they wished. Melissa Axel invited more than 1,500 people on her Facebook event to join her fundraising campaign. Liz Gilbert used the power of her personal network to fulfill a personal wish.

4. The donors had compelling reasons to donate. If you want to hear another concert of Maui Choral Arts, you’d want to donate. If you want to obtain a recording of Melissa Axel, you’d want to donate. Put yourself in the shoes of the local medicine woman who needs a home of her own to raise her daughter and build a practice, you’d want to donate.

How are these three examples different?

Maui Choral Arts is based on Maui. It is a local cause, channeled through residents on the island. Melissa Axel, though based in Denver, cast her net wide — the Internet is global. Liz Gilbert’s cause was local but she sought donations from abroad, in fact, the other side of the world. None of her donors knew the recipient of her cause. But they were willing to contribute because of their connection to Liz.

How successful are benefit concerts in raising funds for a cause?

I recall my meeting with the late Jeroen Muller in May 2009. He had founded the non-profit “Disability Affairs” and asked me about getting musicians to do a benefit concert for the foundation. I was happy to help him but told him that musicians had to get paid. He was surprised about this, for he thought plenty of musicians (including conservatory students) would want to perform for free.

If so, why would my two music examples (Maui Choral Arts and Melissa Axel) require funding at all?

Maui Choral Arts in Kihei

Besides sharing our music with audiences in America, I realised then that we have much to learn from American philanthropy and methods of fund raising. If ticket sales cover only 40%, who will fund the remaining 60% if no one donates or volunteers? Maui Choral Arts has shown me how.

I stopped going to choral concerts unless I was personally invited by someone who was performing or the programme contained works I wanted to hear. Back in the Netherlands, I was constantly racing against time, juggling various activities and struggling to set aside time to play the piano. I had to be selective in attending concerts where I was not personally involved.

With the shopping malls already playing Christmas songs since the day after Thanksgiving, I didn’t want to get an overdose too early. So I had tuned out to Christmas music.

If not for my sister who knew the director of Maui Choral Arts, I probably would not have gone.

Sometimes last minute plans turn out to be the best. Tonight we drove south to Kihei for an evening concert performed by the Maui Concert Chorus, University of Hawaii Maui College Chorus, and Petite Orchestra. It was our first “cultural” event on the island since we arrived on Thanksgiving Day.

A more comprehensive review of this concert is due. For now, let me share my first impressions with you.

We arrived 20 minutes before the concert was expected to start. Yet, the Kihei Baptist Chapel was already half-full. The church was air conditioned and even had a creche with glass windows for parents to see their children being looked after.  It’s the first time I’ve seen such an arrangement.

The artistic director and principal conductor Celia Canty wrote in the nicely printed colour programme booklet: “Without you, the people who listen to music, buy tickets to music events, and volunteer with and donate to organizations that produce live music here on Maui, the variety of musical nourishment accessible to the people who call this island home would be diminished.”

I have never seen such an acknowledgment of the audience — upfront — and repeated at the end of the concert. “Thank you for supporting those who support the arts.” Ms Canty went on to invite the audience to volunteer and tell others about Maui Choral Arts. The audience IS very important. She obviously appreciates the audience, as she spoke directly to the audience during the programme.

Before the intermission, Canty asked everyone to read the programme booklet and see the businesses and entities who are supporting the concert. The notifications and ads of the sponsors were also projected on screen before the concert began. She also invited everyone to fill out the survey. This was not just a way to get feedback from the audience but also to recruit volunteers, enlarge the mailing list, and invite newcomers to audition for the next season. The surveys were also to be entered into a raffle for prizes at the end of the concert.

Before the final work of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Canty spoke once more to the audience. She stated something that was not so obvious to most people. Ticket sales typically cover 37 to 40% of the expenses needed to put on a concert. She also announced that an anonymous donor had offered to match the funds raised by Maui Choral Arts dollar-for-dollar if $1,111 is raised by 1-11-11 (11th January 2011). Coincidentally 1111 is also the PO Box number of the organisation.

Active fundraising, incentives to participate (such as raffles) and feedback to enlarge the mailing list are activities I have not seen in choral concerts in the Netherlands or England. Such promotions are what’s needed to support the arts in communities. The concert was very well attended — nearly full, with $20 tickets.

At no point did I, as a listener, feel that the mention of “money” was inappropriate. I have experienced this in New York City at an off-broadway play. It seems to be well-understood that the arts needs additional help and that the arts cannot support itself.

Besides sharing our music with audiences in America, I realised then that we have much to learn from American philanthropy and methods of fundraising. If ticket sales cover only 40%, who will fund the remaining 60% if no one donates or volunteers? No wonder I could not bring myself to produce another house concert in Utrecht. It was too costly and time-consuming. There must be another way. Maui Choral Arts has shown me how.

Watch the encore (below) and read a review in Bon Journal (13 December 2010).

Bekkers Duo at Taipei Rotary Club

As a Rotarian, I was curious about other Rotary Clubs and in particular those that had substantial fundraising experience. I googled and found the first Rotary Club in Taiwan. I was amazed at their range of activities and online documentation. It seemed like a very interesting club to visit.

Our duo’s most interesting moments often occur when we have the least time to reflect and write about them. The April 2010 trip to Taiwan was, for us, an incredible event that took much planning and deliberation. While the main purpose was to see my family and relatives, I was keen to find a way to return for a longer period.

Taipei Rotary Newsletter concert announcement for 1st April 2010
Taipei Rotary Newsletter concert announcement for 1st April 2010

As a Rotarian, I was curious about other Rotary Clubs and in particular those that had substantial fundraising experience.  I googled and found the first Rotary Club in Taiwan. I was amazed at their range of activities and online documentation. It seemed like a very interesting club to visit.

To conform to the weekly Thursday meeting schedule of the Rotary Club of Taipei, we decided to go straight to Taipei after we landed, instead of going to see my 79-year old father further south.

The Rotary Club of Taipei was the first Rotary Club in Taiwan, the first of 550. My father later told me that his best friend was secretary of the club in 1957-58.

As the mother club, the Taipei Rotary Club members followed the traditions of song and ritual. Every member had a Rotary name related to his/her profession or interest. Everyone wore a badge. The guests signed into a guestbook. It was very well organised.

We gave a short performance of Vivaldi and de Falla. Afterwards many members came to talk to us. One Rotarian suggested that we visit the Tatong Rotary Club in Taichung. He promised to make the necessary introductions.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at the piano at Taipei Rotary Club
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at the piano at Taipei Rotary Club

I was most impressed by the auction of the Sargeant at Arms in the end. In a matter of minutes, the Club raised 10,000 NT from two gifts donated by members. The first item was a German dessert wine which the president nominated as a gift to my father.