Making music truly accessible to all – it’s not as easy as it sounds

By Barry Kempton

Financial gifts from the recent and distant past to our Schubert Club endowment fund make it possible for us as an organization to make most of what we offer accessible to most people.  Entry to the Museum at Landmark Center is free, as are our Thursday lunchtime Courtroom Concerts;  we offer piano and guitar lessons at Project CHEER in the Martin Luther King Center to children for a minimal registration fee; and even when there is a ticket fee, we try hard to keep it relatively affordable.  Indeed, a ticket for Joyce DiDonato’s recital at the Ordway tomorrow is a lot less than it would be in most other US concert halls.  We are fortunate to have resources to subsidize much of what we present and program.

However, the recent Azure family concert for families with children on the autism spectrum (about which I wrote in the last blog) is a clear reminder that though cost is a factor for almost everyone, it is not the only factor in terms of accessibility. 

Pianist Stephen Prutsman whose idea Azure family concerts is, articulated clearly in his brief news interview why presenting such concerts is so important.  Namely, that it is challenging for families with autistic children to attend regular concerts and events – or even go to a restaurant – because the behavior doesn’t conform to what is normally expected.  Steve’s first and only rule at the Azure family concert was that there were no rules.  It was an invitation to all who were there to relax and not worry about the possibility of disturbing the experience of others in the audience.

Here at The Schubert Club, we are thinking about what else in our control might make our programming more accessible.  Here are two factors I shall be giving a lot of thought to over the summer.

  1. Location: Even if we offer programs for no entry charge, the cost of transportation and parking – even the act of travel itself – can be a barrier to participation. Can we bring some of our programs to communities rather than to expect communities to come to us always?
  2. Context: Perhaps the greatest challenge to us all in the arts. Even if we overcome the barrier of cost and location, how do we convince those who don’t know us or the music that the experience is of value, that it’s worth the time and effort to give it a try?

There are no easy answers, but we should all be focused on the questions.