Thursday, January 13, 2011

Music and YouTube

There's something cool going on with classical music and YouTube. Since its inception in 2005, YouTube has been an increasingly important tool for musicians everywhere. As a free video-sharing website, YouTube provides free promotion and a huge audience to anyone who has access to the Internet and a webcam. These days, that’s a lot of people. The benefits of Youtube have already proven to be a smashing success in popular culture - just look at pop sensation Justin Bieber, or the recent homeless-man-turned-Cleveland-Cavaliers-announcer, Ted Williams. Both got their start on YouTube.

Both Justin Bieber and Ted Williams also highlight one of the most important benefits of YouTube: its accessibility. It allows amateurs and professionals alike to promote themselves whether or not they have the support of a record label, a publicist, or, in the case of Ted Williams, a job.

Over the past couple of years, the YouTube phenomena has been catching on in the classical music world as it looks for new ways to be both relevant and efficient.

First, the most obvious way most of us musicians, and music organizations use YouTube: We post live performances. In October, the Koffler Centre of the Arts provided what turned out to be an amazing concert by Israeli jazz superstar Avishai Cohen, and one of the ways we promoted it ahead of time was by posting YouTube videos of Avishai performing on our Facebook event. These kinds of videos provide a preview or sneak peek of what an audience member can look forward to. Avishai no doubt uses the same videos we used to promote himself on a regular basis.

The second way the classical music world is starting to embrace YouTube is to put out informational videos about an upcoming concert or season. There is a great example of this here in Toronto from Sneak Peak Orchestra, who used evocative music and cheeky captions in this video to build excitement for their concert on November 6, 2010. Another notable promotional YouTube video was posted by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to inform and inspire viewers about it’s 75th season. Truly a collaborative effort, it features the music director, Zubin Mehta, as well as many of the IPO's principle players and upcoming soloists.

The third way in which musicians use YouTube is definitely the most exciting. Increasingly, YouTube is being used as a medium for innovative new projects that change the way classical music is being created. In 2009, YouTube and New World Symphony conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, collaborated to give young musicians the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. This YouTube Symphony Orchestra was chosen based on audition tapes posted on YouTube and viewers' votes. Participation from all cultures was encouraged as musicians were given the choice to audition on any instrument, not just western orchestral instruments. In March 2011, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra will preform again--this time in Sydney Opera House with new members. The winners were announced this week, by the way, and at least two Toronto natives were among them. Get links to their audition tapes in this article from the Star.

In March of 2010, Eric Whitacre took the idea of a YouTube collaboration further by creating a virtual choir and posting its performance on YouTube. The recording was created by combining selected individual audition tapes sent in from all over the world. The result is stunning. It is likely that most of the individuals in the video have never met, yet they've worked together to create beautiful art with the help of technology and the Internet.

These intriguing videos are only a few examples of how classical music and YouTube have started working together. I'm looking forward to seeing where YouTube will take classical music next. Or where classical music take YouTube.

Casandra Campbell

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