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I Went to My First Classical Music Concert. It Was in My Living Room.

Dec 6, 2016

The smile that spread across my face a few seconds after the Zaffre Quartet began the rousing finale of Mozart’s String Quartet in G was the first hint that I’d stumbled onto something special. A few minutes later, as I glanced around my living room, my friends’ toe-tapping and head-nodding confirmed I wasn’t the only one enjoying the music.

I barely listen to classical music, so how did a live string quartet end up in my apartment on a Saturday night?

As I scrolled through my Twitter feed last month, a tweet about Groupmuse caught my attention. Groupmuse, which specializes in what it calls “classical music house-party concerts,” sees itself as offering a fairly straightforward process: Set up an event as a host, hire musicians from its site, invite friends and people who use the Groupmuse site, sit back and relax. (Or you can simply attend an event, rather than hosting.) Each attendee contributes at least $10 to compensate the performers. Millennials are Groupmuse’s largest audience. Concerts are in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, with some elsewhere, and there are plans for nationwide expansion next year.

“All you need is four chairs,” Sam Bodkin, the Groupmuse founder, said in a telephone interview. “So whether you’re under a bridge or on top of a building, we can create the great masterworks in the history of Western culture. That makes it a scalable and flexible experience that communities everywhere can gather over.”

From hole-in-the-wall jazz clubs to experimental art shows, I regularly graze at the vast array of New York’s cultural buffet. And as a young black woman, I’m no stranger to navigating spaces in which I’m one of just a handful of minorities. But I still sometimes feel uncomfortable in those spaces — many of them considered highbrow cultural bubbles, even the ballet, which I love and attend every season. As with the ballet, there’s a perception that classical music isn’t the most welcoming, and certainly not the most diverse in its performers or audience members.

Add to that the formal settings in which classical music is often presented, and you have the roots of my lack of interest. But if I didn’t have to leave my couch, did I have a valid excuse not to at least consider it?