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Online Musicking is an experiment by the Maastricht Centre for the Innovation of Classical Music (MCICM), a collaboration between Maastricht University, philharmonie zuidnederland, and Zuyd University of Applied Sciences (Conservatorium and the Research Centre for Art, Autonomy and the Public Sphere).

The outbreak of COVID-19 has greatly impacted musicians and orchestras. No longer able to perform in concert halls, musicians and orchestras are trying to find ways to move their concerts online. We see musicians practicing and performing from their living rooms on our Facebook timelines. Orchestras are streaming previously recorded or live concerts.

But how to perform classical music without the rituals and routines of the concert hall? How do you perform without fellow-musicians or audiences physically present? How do these videos find their way to certain audiences and what does that mean for our understanding of what a classical music audience can be? What does it mean to be a musician or an audience member in this time of home-isolation and social distancing?

Etude:  Good concerts: assessing artistic quality

Musicians and staff are trained and specialized to organize and perform classical music of high-level artistic quality. Criteria used for evaluating concerts are ingrained in the concert practice.  Traditional criteria for evaluating artistic quality include (amongst others) fidelity to the score, faithfulness to the composer’s intent, and aesthetic refinement. However, audiences sometimes use different criteria, such as accessibility and recognizability of the program, the bodily performance of musicians, or decoration of the stage. These criteria of artistic quality can clash and shift. When experimenting with audience participation, even new artistic criteria can emerge.

Learning goal

What comes to count as a good concert, and by whom?

Exercise 1: Learning to evaluate

Make an inventory of the existing ways and forms of evaluation within the organization of the orchestra. How are concerts evaluated by musicians, the programming committee, in the marketing department? Look at formal moments of evaluation within the organization of the orchestra (i.e. forms, surveys, evaluative meetings), but also to informal moments: talks among musicians after concerts, during rehearsals, in the hallways. What (implicit) criteria are used to assess concerts in these formal and informal moments of evaluation? Compare the different ways of evaluation and discuss with a small group of musicians and staff. Discuss how these evaluation forms relate to each other, and how they can be aligned. Ask the following questions: What is it that these forms evaluate, what criteria for a successful concert, and what kind of questions are asked? When specifically do these evaluations take place, only after a concert or also in the process of organizing a concert? And what is done afterwards with the evaluations, what effects do they have for the organization of a concert?

Exercise 2: Broadening the scope of evaluations

Exercise 3: How to develop new criteria for assessing experimental concerts?


Further reading



The Sounding North West experiment as it was originally designed focused on the societal relevance of classical music, by working together with local neighbours of the orchestra. The corona crisis disrupted our plans and made us part of a much more encompassing experiment on a global scale. The question what music to perform now, how exactly and for whom became all the more urgent. Classical music initiatives on social media in the first weeks of the lockdown emphasized the power of music to bring people together. Online Musicking was our exploration and attempt to show what it takes for five musicians (and three researchers) to perform classical music online and engage with online audiences.

In the beginning of our journey in online musicking, most musicians were reluctant to value the homemade online videos of classical musicians and orchestras. But when experimenting with creating their own performances using their smartphones, however, we discovered that the videos have their own quality and aesthetic values, such as intimacy, directness, and authenticity. The musicians created individual videos, ranging from reflecting on what it means to give violin lessons using video-conferencing software, recording a podcast with inspiring stories about canonical musical works, to a video series in which a violinist plays short pieces for an audience that she misses.

In experimenting with these media, the musicians shifted their focus from trying to improve the acoustic quality to other aesthetic elements, including the visual qualities of a movie clip, and its narrative structure or scenario. Instead of trying to retain a form of ‘liveness’, which is a main strategy in many online classical music videos, the musicians started to experiment with the particular aesthetic affordances of the media used, as well as their limitations. As one of the two violinists explained “If we keep trying to get the best acoustic quality that is possible, then we are trying to conceal that we don’t have access to a concert hall right now, so if we really would like to relate to the world in this moment, than we should use our smartphones.” Balancing different aesthetic criteria is a vital feature of any experimental project in classical music, especially when such projects entail a collaboration with other partners or media.

With nothing less than their instruments and smartphones at home, the musicians created two collaborative music videos. In these videos, musicians combine their individual recorded performances at home with additional shots that portray emotions during the corona-lockdown. The final video is an adaptation of Schubert, not only because we arranged his songs for this specific and arbitrary instrumentation, but also in the way that it connects and adds a new relevance to them, by explicitly putting them in the contemporary context of the corona-crisis. The musicians managed to combine and balance with different sets of aesthetic criteria: acoustic, visual, and narrative criteria. In the end, it was challenging to lower the high expectations both musicians and audiences have about the acoustic and sound quality of music videos.

The musicians and researchers were amateurs in digital recording, editing, and producing of videos with smartphone cameras. The experiment Online Musicking showed the hidden work that goes into creating an collaborative music video based on individual recordings: the negotiation and balancing between different aesthetic criteria; the different ways to cope with and complement the lack of playing (articulating, intonation and playing in-tune) together in the recording and editing process; the skills that are needed to perform in front of a camera and make it into a collaborative whole. Our attempts at online musicking raised topical questions and challenges regarding performance qualities, audience participation, and societal relevance.

  • Digital videos of classical music performances have their own aesthetic qualities (values such as intimacy, directness, authenticity, and visual and narrative criteria)
  • Online musicking videos seldom come with performative, online listening spaces
  • Producing a collaborative video together, while recording individually, shows the hidden work and skills behind such videos: planning, recording, editing, producing, and making compromises
  • Playing on click-track highlights what normally goes ‘natural’ and by routine in a concert setting: playing together by articulating and intonating together
  • Balancing different aesthetic criteria is challenging in practice; it is especially difficult to deviate from high expectations on acoustic and sound quality
  • The songs of Schubert gain new meaning and relevance when performed in times of crisis
  • Explicitly imagining an audience while planning, recording and assessing performances helps to make decisions
  • Experimenting online takes a lot of planning, self-organising skills and courage; explicating the process can make individual musicians feel vulnerable

Online Musicking is an experiment by the Maastricht Centre for the Innovation of Classical Music (MCICM), a collaboration between Maastricht University, philharmonie zuidnederland,and Zuyd University of Applied Sciences (Conservatorium and the Research Centre for Art, Autonomy and the Public Sphere). Online Musicking is one out of five experiments that the MCICM conducts in the Artful Participation project, which is funded by the Dutch research foundations NWO and SIA.