If Boston’s Sam Bodkin has his way, people in their 20s will be jamming to classical music at parties just as often as they do to pop, hip-hop or rock 'n' roll.
The 24-year-old started Groupmuse last year as a way to introduce his peers to the pleasures of listening to live classical music—or “classical music for people who don’t want to wear a suit and tie.” Since then, Groupmuse has sponsored more than 150 parties in the Boston area and the concept has spread to other cities, including San Francisco and New York.
“Just like any form of music, classical music has a social scene,” Bodkin has written. “But to engage with classical music, you must engage with the scene associated with it, and, at present, it’s one that young folks find inaccessible.”
But young folks do like a party.
Groupmuse works as a sort of social/musical hub, matching up party hosts, musicians and guests. Hosts sign up via the Groupmuse website, and reps arrange for musicians, whom have also registered at the website, to show up and play. The hosts invite as many friends as their living room, basement or kitchen can hold, and strangers can register online to attend as well.
“The concert experience is as social as it is musical,” says Bodkin on his website. “It’s a way to expand your mind as well as your social circle.”
Most of the musicians who have played Boston-area Groupmuse events are students from the New England Conservatory of Music, who appreciate the relaxed setting — not-to-mention the additional income. Although Groupmuse events are completely free, hosts pass the hat at the end of the hour-long performances, and any money collected goes directly to the musicians, who earn, on average, $150 to $500 a night.
“It’s such a blast,” cellist Julia Yang, a graduate student at the New England Conservatory, who has played at five Groupmuse events, told The Boston Globe . “It feels authentic and so close — people are sitting a foot or two away, and taking in every note. At the same time, the setting is freeing. It’s a party, and people are relaxed.”
Bodkin says guests have appreciated being exposed to a musical genre that’s brand new to many of them—and without classical music’s traditional formal trappings. Audiences clap and hoot and holler between movements, clink beer bottles, ask musicians questions, and well, act like they’re at a party.
“People should just go and get into the music and experience it on their own terms,” Bodkin told Time magazine. “Then hopefully a lot of them will get really turned on by Beethoven, because, ‘Wow, this guy I heard about so much is actually pretty rocking,’ and then they go see the big show at Carnegie Hall."