I answered the Minicon poll and it reminded me of something I wanted to talk some more about.minnehaha K wrote some about this as well, and one of the things I missed at this year's Minicon was music. The scheduled performances were good, but the music circle just didn't happen for me. Here's my take on why:
- The designated location for the music circle was a programming room. This separated it from the room parties and the general flow of people in the convention once programming ended for the day. This kept the audience away.
- The designated location was open to all. While everyone deserves their chance to make their first performance in the circle, (that's how we make new friends!), the nature of such a circle kept the strongest performers away.
To expand on these points:
One of the experiences of music at Minicon has been wandering from one venue to the next and hearing a song drift out into the passage. This happened in the Consuite of the Old Minicons, where music happened across the hall. It also occurred in those hallways as people moved from one room party to the next. It happened in Newer Minicons between room parties as well.
As people heard music and stopped in, they may have had a moment of joy and moved on. Or they might have sat for a song or three while they finished a beverage. For a few, they became entranced and stayed and next thing they knew, the morning light was streaming in the window.
The function space designated as the place for music at this most recent Minicon meant that people needed to make the music circle a destination. They had to remove themselves from the rest of the convention for a period of time in order to dedicate themselves to this experience. For some, doing that would be an obvious choice, but requiring it for all means that many miss out on the serendipity that was possible before.
Given the current hotel, I don't have an easy solution to this issue.
The Open Circle
There is a long-standing tension between the open music circle and the invite-only circle. Some of the characteristics of the music circle take time to learn in order to build on the current circle and avoid breaking it. I, for example, spent a year coming to music circles with my bodhran but playing it only in the audience space and only with a thick fleece shirt draped over it to muffle my playing. I tried to take the good-natured ribbing that accompanies the arrival of a bodhran in stride once I took a seat in the circle.
When a novice performer (which can be very different than a novice musician) has a turn in the circle, the results can be exciting or they can disrupt the flow of the rest of the performances. For the performers themselves, a completely open circle can quickly become so large that the time between their turns becomes tedium.
The combination of that extended time between strong performers and the breaking of flow that so often accompanies those unfamiliar with the expectations of this kind of performance results in the strongest performers either staying away or finding smaller groups more to their liking. In addition, the programmed music schedule this year meant that some that would have joined a circle were tired from their performances and unable or unwilling to take on more performance.
A possible solution
One approach to solve at least this issue would be to have an open circle with designated hosts. Someone who decides who fills the available chairs and can gently let people know when they should take a break or make room for someone else. The goal would be to have a critical mass of good performers and a structured way to introduce new members over time.
I envision this working a bit like the Kaffeklatch and other space-limited events this year. People interested in joining the circle would sign up ahead of time. The lead host would coordinate with music programming to find attending performers who would like to lead the circle each night. Then the individual hosts could fill in additional chairs from those that signed up. Care would be taken to avoid a circle of 12 drummers, for example, and would have the goal of including new faces for at least a time. The host could then replace someone that isn't fitting in for one reason or another with another person from the sign-up or even leave a chair empty for a time if that's the best thing.
Musicians who would like to join, but missed signing up would be encouraged to wait for the next night or to play along quietly in a supportive role behind the circle. That would give a host a chance to evaluate how they fit into the circle and either choose to include them later if someone leaves or to start on another night.
There is no perfect solution, of course, and someone will feel left out no matter what happens. The key is to define what the goal is and move toward that goal as best we can. In my mind, the goal is that as many people as possible enjoy music circles while providing the opportunity to discover new performers and friends. I think the idea of hosted circles allows us to approach that goal.