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“All” Class Musicians featured at a Class Reunion

Level of difficulty: Advanced
Cost to participate: None

Event: The Class of 1970 arranged enough “concerts” at its 40th Reunion in 2010, so that all classmates who were instrumental musicians had opportunities to perform. Some pre-reunion mini-concerts, held in several cities served as mini-reunions promoting the 40th Reunion.

Lead time: 1 year
Date of event: June 2010

Resources: – for concerts
3 key volunteers – 150 hours (total hours of all volunteers over whole year)
20+ class musician volunteers – many uncounted hours practicing and performing
6+ other musicians (compensated)
AYA arranged for sound equipment rental typical of class reunions.
AYA helped find ad schedule venues within the university for the concerts.
Some misc. equipment ($100)
For some of the musicians, reunion registration fees were waived.

Resources: – for recording
2 volunteers – 30 hours (total of both volunteers)
1 recording engineer + 1 studio engineer – under $1,000

Results: 20+ class musicians performed, 260 reunion attendees heard the music live, remaining 700 class members could hear excerpts online.

Why a success? Most of the professional, semi-professional, and seriously avocational instrumental musicians in the class participated, although they constituted a relatively small portion of the Class. Some of these hadn’t attended a Class reunion in years. It was the first time that some classmates had heard these musicians play for decades.

During undergraduate years, many of the musicians knew each other. They sometimes played in each others’ bands. Though many had individually continued to play music, this was the first time in decades that many had been able to play together – and for their classmates.

Music – every kind of music – has been a large part of youth culture for much of the past century. However, Class reunions tend to feature only danceable music. (Because Yale has a strong tradition of a particular style of a cappella choral singing, that is featured at Yale Class Reunions as well.) This 40th Reunion highlighted and headlined a much greater range of music (and musicians) – including classical music, jazz, rock and roll, blues, folk, and protest music. Two new pieces were written specifically for this Reunion – one classical and one rock and roll. This Reunion project was able to bring to all attendees increased and enriched memories of old times and new.

Compensation to headliners was within the normal Class Reunion budget for such things, but most of the musicians volunteered their time. Yale and AYA did not need to provide significant additional services for this project.

This Reunion project gave recognition, reinforcement, and camaraderie to a small vibrant segment of the Class that had been overlooked. The event helped promote a Class-wide feeling of inclusion because it was combined with numerous other programming initiatives focusing on various different Class sub-groups (artists, anglers, bicyclists, fencers, sailors, rowers, martial artists). The breadth and depth of these multiple initiatives won the AYA Class Programming award in 2010.

Details:

Background: Many Classes incorporate music into their reunion celebrations. For example, most individual Classes have one or two evenings with a dance band playing the “old songs” alumni danced to and listened to while undergraduates. The dance band sometimes features classmates. Most Classes also have a mini-concert by an a cappela singing group comprised of classmates who sang together while under-graduates at Yale. However, for many classes, that is the extent of the music. For a number of reasons, including scheduling and budgeting, the number of musicians and bands that perform at any one Class reunion are usually limited. Often the same few groups perform at reunion after reunion.

The Event: The “concerts” took several different forms, and fit several different time slots. This was the only way that so many musicians could be accommodated within the framework that AYA establishes for the Reunion weekend. Part of the scheduling difficulty was that more standard Reunion activities were also scheduled for those less interested in music.

Panel discussion: Generally, Friday and Saturday afternoons of a Yale Class Reunion weekend are reserved for panel discussions lead by Classmates (two or three panels each afternoon). The Reunion Chair reserved one of the Friday panel discussion slots for classically trained musicians to speak about their careers in music. The panel included 4 class musicians plus a Professor of Music who had taught them all 40 years previously. (The class panelists included a composer, a performer, an academician and one who had trained for a performance career, but instead worked as an internationally known music critic.) The panelists interspersed their discussions with live music – a Beethoven piano solo, a Brahms clarinet-piano duet, and the world premier of a new piece for piano (4 hands) and clarinet. The panel was planned for (and held in) a hall used for music recitals.

Late-afternoon pre-dinner concerts and jams: This time slot of 2-plus hours on Friday and Saturday is usually left empty, with receptions and cocktails served the half-hour before dinner in various parts of the campus. Instead several groups of musicians were scheduled each day to play in a covered courtyard. A whiteboard/blackboard by the performance stage listed the acts that would be performing, leant an element of informality, allowed additional musicians to sign up impromptu, and permitted roster changes. Each performance set featured a musician or group, but some sets were more like jams with additional musicians sitting in. In the two days, at least 12 class musicians played during these sets. Music included blues, rock and roll, protest songs, original children’s songs, folk music, and jazz.

After dinner concert: A half hour concert was scheduled right after dinner on both Friday and Saturday. This preferably was held in a space near to (but not in) the dining area. The change of venue helps clear the dining area so that wait-staff can clean up and prepare for later festivities. One day the concert was a cappella singing featuring 11 Classmates. The other day it was danceable rock and roll lead by a Classmate.

Evening concert and dancing: A two hour concert was held in the now-cleared dining space (covered courtyard) on both Friday and Saturday. The first night was cabaret style blues and boogie, lead by a Classmate. The performance included a song written specifically for this Reunion. The second night was danceable rock and roll featuring 3 Classmates plus their wives and friends from “nearby” classes.

Late night jams: Another 1-1/2 hours was scheduled from 11:30 pm to 1:00 pm on both Friday and Saturday, in case any musicians had not had enough. A small amount was budgeted for late-night pizza. The venue was indoors so as not to disturb those who retired for the evening. This time slot was not used (and only one pizza ordered) because the musicians had all gotten in their licks. Some musicians did jam in this space earlier in the evening (during the Saturday evening rock and roll concert). Some musicians did jam in this time slot at the Class reunion 5 years earlier.

Sunday morning memorial service: The Class holds a non-denominational memorial service for classmates who have died in the last 5 years. Several short jazz/blues style pieces were played during the service (with a Classmate).

Online virtual CD: A recording of some of the performances was made and posted online for the Class. This was both a way to memorialize the performances, and also to bring part of the reunion to those unable to attend.

Thursday evening iPod concert: A 4 hour iPod playlist of easy listening “oldies” was prepared by a Classmate who had been both a musician and DJ while an undergraduate. This was played as background music in the covered courtyard where early arrivals could hang out and talk.

Pre-reunion mini-concert tour: One class musician (the Entertainment Chair) had planned to perform in several cities across the country during the year before the reunion. Class communications promoted these as “mini-reunions” and provided free T-shirts that identified the tour as well as the Class nature of it. Extra T-shirts were sold online as “collectibles” before the reunion. (Profits from the online sales paid for the free shirts given away.) This pre-reunion tour provided good publicity for the reunion in general, good outreach to both the Class musicians and the Class as a whole about the featured musical aspects of the upcoming Reunion, and built community among Classmates who were unable to attend the Reunion.

Resources needed: Most of the organizational work was done by 3 volunteers. (Many individual musicians spent significant time practicing prior to the Reunion itself.) The Reunion Chair spent 40 hours scheduling events and venues and negotiating with musicians. The Entertainment Chair (one of the performing musicians) spent 80 hours scheduling events and venues and negotiating with musicians plus another 20 hours at the reunion supervising events. Another volunteer (musician) spent 10 hours organizing the “Careers in Music” panel.

Both the Reunion Chair and the Entertainment Chair each spent an additional 40 hours involved in arranging and supervising session recording and post-session sound engineering and editing.

The cost of the recording engineers was modest and less that $1,000.

AYA staff arranged for sound equipment rental (a standard reunion task) and helped find and schedule venues for music events (also a standard reunion task though this scheduling probably took some hours more than usual).

OTHER ESSENTIAL RESOURCES:
• The Class had a cadre of professional musicians from which to draw. It was necessary to find them and motivate them to become involved and self-organizing. Some classes might not have these musical resources. Just as likely, many classes may have such resources but not know it.
• The organizer(s) have to be able to build a team or community feeling among the artists. Creating a feeling of a group effort makes the musicians willing to donate their time as well as reach out to other classmates and musicians to make the project happen.

Metrics: 20 or more class instrumental musicians performed. At any one of the Class’ previous reunions, only 7 were likely to have performed.

The Class consisted of approximately 934 living alumni. AYA had email addresses for approximately 680 of them. Approximately 260 classmates attended the 40th Reunion, many bringing spouses. Instrumental musicians (as a group) had not been featured at previous reunions.

Approximately 26 classmates were invited to perform. Some of these names came from AYA records of who majored in music as an undergraduate, or who listed music as a vocation. Most names of non-classical musicians came from recollections of the volunteer organizers.

Invitations to participate were sent by email. Announcements of the event/project were included in general reunion mailings to the entire Class so that musicians “unknown” to the organizing volunteers could participate.

Possible improvements:

Musicians can be prima donnas. This caused aggravation and negotiating difficulties. It interfered with optimal scheduling and impacted sound quality.

Sound technicians can complicate performance schedules. The contract sound technicians arrived late and wasted hours of time on both Friday and Saturday afternoons. Instead of doing a sound check for all groups when the technician arrives, wasting valuable time, it should be done on the fly as each band or group tunes up.

Endemic bad acoustics pose particular problems. Most Reunion attendees are most interested in talking to each other. When acoustics are bad, amplified music makes it worse. It is best to try to create segmented sound areas, so that people who want to listen can, and so that people who want to talk can do that without their conversations being drowned out by the music. This also means that the first after-dinner concert really has to be in a different venue than dinner, to accommodate those who wish to linger and talk. This also means that the half hour before dinner has to be quieter music or no music. This might mean un-amplified music. It might mean eliminating the most percussive instruments such as drums or upright pianos. It might mean requiring that keyboard instrument or drum pad be electronic. The music volume of percussive instruments such as an upright piano or physical drum kit just cannot be well controlled in a bad acoustic environment.

Think about recording in advance. Making a recording was decided upon last minute, consequently not everything was recorded. A much more complete and much better recording could have been made for an extra $1,000. CDs could have been made for every Classmate (even those who did not come to the Reunion) for another $1.50 each (in quantities of 1000).

A series of mini-concerts needs active local organizers in each city. The job of these organizers is to publicized the event from a local stand point and get people to come.