Last Friday, something truly remarkable happened in my living room: A group of about 30 people came together; some musicians played;we all hung out together, listened to great music, and had great conversations. It’s called a “house concert.”
What is a house concert?
It’s pretty simple really: It’s a concert at a house. Note that I didn’t say “a party with music.” At a house concert, the music is the main priority. Sure, there’s probably food and drink, and there’s probably time before and after the concert to mingle, but during the concert itself, people sit, stop talking, and give their attention to the music.
How do you have a house concert?
First, you’ll need a house. It helps if the house has a piano (but maybe that’s just my bias as a pianist coming through). You’ll need a space in the house where people can sit comfortably and listen to music. The space needs to be large enough for the musicians too, of course. Not all houses are suitable for all kinds of music. I recommend having a space for 20-30 people. But there are no rules; that’s one of the things that’s so great about house concerts. You can have one with only 10 people, but I think with more than 30 people it starts feeling impersonal. You want musicians to be able to connect with the audience and for the audience members to connect with each other.
Next, find some musicians! Maybe you yourself are one. The concert could be one musician. Or it could be more than one. I suggest 30-60 minutes of music. It’s probably best to stick to minimal and acoustic genres. Your neighbors might not appreciate heavy metal or heavy bass and drum techno. Some ideas: a solo songwriter with acoustic guitar or piano, small classical ensembles (such as piano and/or a few string instruments), maybe a jazz trio (if you have the space for it).
And, lastly, invite people. Use all the same techniques you would if you were throwing a party: word of mouth, email, Facebook, web-based invitations, etc. When you invite people, make it clear that it’s a concert, not a party. Make it clear what time the music starts and discourage people from coming in late. (Tell people arriving late to come in the back door, so that they won’t disrupt the concert.)
The person hosting the concert can provide the snacks and refreshments, or you can go with a potluck approach, but I find that can lead to problems if not properly coordinated (for example, 20 people all bring desserts). You might ask for a voluntary donation (or just charge admission) to cover the cost of the food and drink. As a general rule, the host of a house concert isn’t going to make a profit; you’re just in it for the love of music.
Why have a house concert?
I think the biggest reason to have a house concert is to connect musicians and audiences. In a typical concert at a larger venue, a bunch of people sit in an auditorium, watching musicians on a stage, then after the concert everyone goes home. There’s no communication between musicians and audiences except for music in one direction and applause in the other direction. With a house concert, musicians can share more in depth and more personally about themselves and their songs, especially during the time after the concert when musicians and audience members are mingling.
A house concert is also a great way for music lovers to connect with other music lovers. If the right audience has been invited, there will be people there who don’t know each other yet, but they’ll have something immediately in common to talk about: the music that they’ve just heard. Chances are, people will meet other people who share similar music interests. (By the way, I met my wife at a house concert!)
The listening and viewing experience in someone’s living room can be far better than the back row (or even the front row!) in a club or auditorium. For classical music, it’s pretty amazing to watch virtuoso instrumentalists from just ten feet away.
It’s also a great way for musicians to promote their music. They can sell CDs, sign up people for their newsletter, and network with other musicians.
It’s a non-threatening environment for a musician to try new things. A songwriter can get feedback on new songs. Or a musician can try out a whole different musical style than what they normally do. Or a classical musician can run through material that they are preparing for a recital or a competition.
Lastly, as someone pointed out last Friday at my house concert: “An evening of great music in a great setting, shared with great people… do we really need any other reason to be doing this?”