A Connection Like a Full Moon

Is increased audience participation the great musical trend of our time?

In Backnang, southern Germany, a concert reaches for the finish line. We settle on a simple, short hornpipe as an encore, something unrehearsed. The audience perceives a shift. Convention slips away. They feel for the pulse in the piece and start to clap along, their stamping travels under us. It feels like a release. The room is one, a connection like a full moon. They shift from being spectator to creator, the music carrying the expression of over one hundred rather than two. ‘They’ve been waiting to do that all night,’ another musician says afterwards.

Three months on, it is a memorable moment – audience participation doesn’t always work, but when music manages to balance itself on a wave of communal energy, it is a powerful thing.

For much of human history, we were all participators in music. With no recordings or easy access to professional performances, music was more Continue reading

How Can We Connect to the Musical Life Around Us?


For a little more than a year, my colleagues and I in The Journal of Music have been involved in an online experiment. In November of 2012, we launched a listings service, but not a standard music listings service with just concerts. We aspired to create a system that was flexible enough to accommodate a broader range of musical activity, that would, for example, attract every type of musical format and all sizes  too, from the informal community workshop to the big annual festival.

My personal motivation was an interest in the diversity of the musical life around us, how the digital world can make us more aware of it, and what will happen once we, as musicians and audiences, become more fully aware of the range of musical opportunities that are all around us all the time.

This interest goes back to the original print magazine, JMI: The Journal of Music in Ireland, which I founded in 2000. It combined writing on traditional, folk, classical, jazz, contemporary classical music and more, partly because I was trying to challenge the traditional hierarchy of genres – with classical music at the top and folk at the bottom – but also because I was trying to present a more accurate picture of the musical life around us.

It was an idea that connected well with the emerging digital world. Very soon, iTunes, MySpace and YouTube had all but demolished the notion of a hierarchy of genres – in the digital world anyway. Similarly, The Journal of Music listings service took an open approach, in that all events would be on an equal level, without categorisation by genre or scale.

An island of plenty

To date, there have been almost 3,000 listings uploaded. What was striking from the start was the number of events taking place. Ireland is known for having a lively and intense musical life (perhaps because of its size and the fact that it is an island), but we could not conceive of just how busy it is.

Continue reading