Mini Concert Series (Summer 2020) - TheACO
Mini Concert Series (Summer 2020)
The Americas Chamber Orchestra
Diego Barbosa-Vásquez / Music Director
The Mini-Concerts Series was a small season of online concerts that were broadcasted by The Americas Chamber Orchestra during summer 2020. TheACO, is a professional chamber orchestra currently based at the Indiana University - Jacobs School of Music. An organization founded and led by professional Students and Alumni of this university. Its description on the website says:
We are a performing arts ensemble which activates artistry and promotes cultural diversity among its musicians and the communities which they serve, through innovative musical projects. As musicians of the 21st century, we seek to reimagine the ways in which classical music, traditional, and multi-cultural music of the Americas is performed in public.
This series of concerts was the response of a total cancelled season because of Covid-19. After February 23rd, the first official concert of the orchestra in Bloomington, the orchestra was ready to start an exciting season that included opera, symphonic, strings and wind concerts. However, the difficulties created by the pandemic encouraged the leaders of the organization to think creatively in order to continue serving its community and growing as an orchestra.
The Summer Mini Concert Series was built with three main points in mind. First, it have to allow the organization to be connected as an active orchestra and with its community. Second, it has to generate important orchestra development. Meaning a musical, technical and artistic development within the performers of the orchestra and the orchestra as a whole. Third, it has to generate some income for the performers in need.
As the Music Director, I had to craft the solution for that. My proposal was a series of soloists concerts done from the houses of performers with a very detailed artistic proposal and high quality playing to balance the low video and audio possibilities that we had. All the program can be summarized as follows.
First, because of Covid-19 restriction we knew that the concert had to be done by the players as soloists for two main reasons. First, there were no possibilities to do even chamber music because the Covid-19 restrictions were so hard. Second, after the first budget and schedule analysis of the project, as decribed by Carperter and Blandy in the steps to create a new program, we realized that there were no time to fundraise for a very high quality produced concert from the point of view of video and audio. Therefore, the easier way was broadcast using Facebook and do it from the performers own houses creating an intimate environment. Therefore the concerts were broadcasted from Bloomington, Indianapolis, Lafayette and Texas. And was seen in many places, the Facebook shows at least US, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Panama, El Salvador, Germany, Spain.
Obviously present a soloists concert series for an orchestra in a first view could means that we are not solving the problem of how to be connected as an orchestra in the middle of a pandemic and we are not really working as an orchestra in the Musical, Technical and Artistic aspects. However, the research shows that an orchestra is deeply influenced by each member, and the work of each member in these three aspects of musical development will affect the orchestra development as a whole.
Despite the fact that the work of an orchestra is to become a single entity, researches about the hologramatic and holistic characteristics of an orchestra had demonstrated that it is important to never forget that an orchestra is an entity made by single players. In addition, because TheACO is a Chamber Orchestra it emphasize the soloist approaches looking at the players. In contrast with a Symphonic Orchestra, where there are at least 12 to 18 players in the first violin section, all of them playing the same part. In the case of Chamber orchestras, the numbers of this section are around 4 to 8. It creates a necessity of a more careful thinking of how the quality of sound, playing and the performance perspectives of each player could influence the orchestra. Therefore, having players performing as soloist at the end will help the orchestra as whole.
Understanding that each player is unique, the next step was understand how to motivate them to continue playing together as a group during this difficult times. The tool used for that was the researches about orchestra motivation made by the author in a text called Reflexiones Sobre los Elementos Motivacionales de las Técnicas de Ensayo (Reflections around Motivational Elements in the Rehearsal Techniques). This research found that orchestras and musicians could be analyzed through the lents of Motivational theories. This analysis shows that musicians are interested not only in play by the action of play. They play because they are looking to fulfill the basic elements described by motivational theorists: Association in a group and acceptation, self-esteem, and self-realization.
To allow musicians to work on their self-esteem and self-realization, and solve the necessity of serve the orchestra communities being connected with them. The solution for that was broadcast the concert on Facebook totally free to be connected with their communities and feel proud of themselves. Second, define that the orchestra members will play not only the standard repertoire per each instrument, but also at least 2 pieces that could represent what they consider who they are as humans. It allows them to reflect carefully which are the things that could define them, and how the music help them to express that. In addition, it allowed the orchestra community to know the members of the orchestra in a more deep way. Here we could see the composer in residence of TheACO Daniel Cueto, performing his home instrument, the flute. Or the CEO Aron Frank presenting some guitar and voice compositions by himself. Two incredible experience that were only possible because of this unique concerts.
Another challenge that have to be solved by the proposal was, how to be connected with our communities in a way that is interesting for them. This reflection started defining the days that the series will be done. As described by Carperter and Blandy, we starting analyzing other possible conflicts of schedules with other organizations. However, because the pandemic restrictions was already starting, just few orchestra organizations have thought about a weekly concert series. It allows us to define Friday 8pm for the concert. Starting on May 1. Also, the 8 pm (USA-EDT) was selected because it allowed us to be in a range of 5 pm and 8pm with our potential communities (Los Angeles, Colombia, Peru, Bloominton, etc).
Another challenge that this proposal solved was allowing musicians to fulfill their motivation item of association in-group and acceptation of others, and working together as an orchestra even from different parts of the world. To solve it, first the orchestra had to do the concerts as a unique entity instead of single instrumentalists concerts crafted without any coherence between each one. That way people could feel being part of a greater thing than just their unique concert. In that sense, the full players were part of shared repertoire proposals list for the concerts. Allowing them to see how the possible combinations relates with others. From standard repertoire as Bach Cello Suites or Sonatas for Violin, to Viola capriccio by Vieuxtemps. The repertoire also include pieces as flute short pieces by the TheACO Composer in Residence Daniel Cueto, works composed in US by close friends of the performers as Aron Frank, and traditional music as Colombia Tierra Querida or traditional tunes from Irland, Peru and jewish traditions. Second, all of the players were invited to see the concerts of its colleagues and interact with them in the Facebook live. It allows them to co-relate with their colleagues having to face the same problem and challenges of a totally new format of do concerts.
Finally the task of generate income for the players was a collaborative effort leaded by Aron Frank the CEO of the Orchestra and myself as Music Director. First, a Go Fund me page was created. In each concert each musicians was referring to it in order to get donations. It also created a sense of collective efforts between the full orchestra. Second, SADCO Society of Colombian Friends, a foundation that was in our Feb 23rd concert, offered its support. That way, the orchestra was able to offer some kind of support for the members that were in need at this moment.
The Mini Concert Series was absolutely successful that can be demonstrated by three main facts. First, the orchestra was in always in contact during the full pandemic, and despite the fact we were in different parts of the world, when we returned to our first rehearsal in middle fall we all felt like a family. Second, the quality of the performances was really good and there was an improvement in the performance and speaking abilities in the members a fact that helps the orchestra. Third, the Faccebook numbers speak by themselves. An average of 1500 people was reached by each concerts, some of them even more than 2500. And people from Colombia, Peru, Los Angeles, Texas, New York, North Carolina and other places started to tune the concerts. That is why, the board decided that this series have to be a fundamental part of the future seasons in winter and summer.
 The Americas Chamber Orchestra, “The ACO Mini Concert Series - Summer 2020,” The Americas Chamber Orchestra, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.acochamberorchestra.com/mini-concerts  The Americas Chamber Orchestra, “About Us,” The Americas Chamber Orchestra, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.acochamberorchestra.com/about-me.  Gay Carpenter and Douglas Emerson Blandy, Arts and Cultural Programming: A Leisure Perspective (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008),  Ibid. Page 9  Diego Felipe Barbosa Vásquez, “Reflexiones Sobre los Elementos Motivacionales de las Técnicas de Ensayo”. Bogotá, Colombia: MONOGRAFIA DE GRADO Fundacion Universitaria Juan N. Page 9  Ibid. Page 8  Ibid. Page 11 - 16  Ibid. Page 11 - 16  Gay Carpenter and Douglas Emerson Blandy, Arts and Cultural Programming: A Leisure Perspective (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008),