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Müller-Stosch Uses Social Media To Connect With His Audience

Published: December 1, 2011

When Johannes Müller-Stosch reviews the 80-member Cole Conservatory Orchestra at CSULB before a performance, he checks his list of requirements — musicianship, white tie, tails and social media.

Müller-Stosch, music director and conductor of the Cole Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, uses social media to stay in touch with CSULB audiences. In a recent bow, he accepted questions via e-mail and texts through a special number. “It was a great success and we will keep doing that,” said Müller-Stosch, who also serves as music director and conductor of Michigan’s Holland Symphony Orchestra.

Audience feedback has been positive. “We began using social media in our September concert where we received more than 50 messages,” he explained. “Out of an audience of 800, that’s pretty good.”

Müller-Stosch reasoned that social media already has been recognized in classical music. “There is always an announcement before each performance. ‘Please turn off your cell phones.’ And anyone who attends a lecture has seen screen after screen of laptops and iPads,” he said. “Some take notes and others check Facebook. It is just part of the reality of the modern university. The audience at CSULB is a young one. They will turn on their cell phones at intermission anyway. Why not make something fun out of that?”

To Müller-Stosch, the success of modern orchestras depends on connecting with 21st century audiences. “If music isn’t meaningful to the community, there will be no relationship,” he said. “It’s not all about performance. It’s about reaching an audience that sees the orchestra as a cultural asset they want to support. It’s about finding a pathway of communication between the stage and the audience.”

He also sees a role for social media in building excitement for new repertoire. “My hope is to reach out with the social media initiative to those with limited classical music experience,” he said. “Even if potential audiences only attend a few programs, they can begin enjoying our repertoire. Their exposure to classical music will make an impression.”

The Cole Conservatory Symphony Orchestra performs a wide and varied repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the 21st Century presented in four programs each semester. The orchestra regularly collaborates with faculty artists, composers, dance and CSULB’s Choral/Opera programs. Almost all performances are held at the 1,100-seat Carpenter Performing Arts Center adjacent to the Cole Conservatory.

Müller-Stosch’s use of social media in the September concert sought to tap into audience curiosity. “There were all kinds of questions, including ‘Who was that woman who walked out before you?’” he recalled. “So I talked about what a concertmaster is. (A concertmaster leads the orchestra’s first violin section.) We looked at the questions back stage and four were selected for me to address.”

Questions included how much they practiced a particular repertoire? How difficult was it to memorize a piano concerto? Why was Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony selected for performance? “These are very legitimate and interesting questions,” said Müller-Stosch.

“I try not to have preconceived ideas about what the audience wants to know. It’s a more casual conversation. Questions have included how I like my steak? Right before we started the fanfare before Tchaikovsky’s 4th, I told the audience I like my steak medium rare!”

Müller-Stosch Wants That
Johannes Müller-Stosch

The orchestra records its concerts in high-definition video using several cameras. “We offer examples of our performances on our Facebook page,” he explained. “These videos offer potential audiences an idea of what they can expect. It is an asset to the orchestra that enables them to relive the performance. Plus, it records their steady improvement.”

Müller-Stosch grew up with computers and is well-versed in their language. “That’s one reason I use Facebook to advertise our concerts,” he said. “We have set up YouTube links to the orchestra’s Facebook page. We even put together a short promotional video where we interviewed student performers after a rehearsal. All of that is online to prep people for our concerts. Our potential audience may wonder what makes us different from a high school band. They can find out by looking at our performances online. They can see our students are excited about performing. They can sample the quality of our performances. It is much more interactive. That is the key.”

The introduction of social media to performance is just one more step in classical music’s evolution, Müller-Stosch feels. “The typical 18th and 19th century concert had much more variety,” he said. “You would have one movement from a piano concerto, one movement from a symphony, maybe an overture, then you bring in a singer either with a piano or the orchestra and then you do another movement. Now we can program according to attention span with something demanding followed by something lighter.”

Müller-Stosch is founder and director of the Michigan Conducting Institute, a summer conducting training workshop with the Holland Symphony Orchestra. He received two Master of Music degrees in organ performance and orchestral conducting from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music before earning his doctorate from the Eastman School of Music where he served as assistant conductor of the Eastman Philharmonia Orchestra.

Müller-Stosch encourages other faculty members to take advantage of social media. “Don’t be afraid of it,” he said. “Don’t just ask a student to set up a Twitter account and Facebook page and forget about it. Stay involved yourself. Addressing student needs makes for more effective teaching.”