Classical + Climbing: We interview Sam Bodkin, CEO of Groupmuse. Graduating from Columbia with a degree in political science, Bodkin felt a calling to carrying classical music to the forefront of the modern world.
Who are your favorite composers?
Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert
Groupmuse is amazing in that there’s an intimacy separate from the usual stuffiness of a ‘classical’ audience. How would you describe the experience to someone who appreciates but doesn’t often listen to classical?
One notable characteristic of music – of all forms of music – is that because it’s a performed art form that takes place in time and space, is that a scene invariably emerged around it and that social scene is comprised of the people who congregate to share that music. So, more than any other form of art, the type of music you listen to says a lot about the kind of person you are and the kind of person you want to be.
Classical music has a social scene, it’s just not one that coheres with the values of most young people. For economic and historical reasons that have quite little to do with the music itself, the scene around this music is kind of textbook uncool. But what’s essential and what, I think, Groupmuse does, is to disentangle those social associations with this music, written hundreds of years ago, that has nothing to do with those associations. This form of music is about sounds and what these sounds can do when put in the masterful hands of some of the greatest minds humanity has given rise to. When freed from the confines of the spaces that define the social character of the experience, the music can speak for itself, and it does! Come to a Groupmuse, you’ll immediately see what I mean!
Groupmuse gets to play beautiful music in some beautiful spaces & homes. Which are the most memorable Groupmuses for you ?
We’ve had huge groupmuses in massive warehouses and gorgeous Manhattan penthouses, but some of my favorite groupmuses have been ten person groupmuses that happen in the host’s bedroom. The degree of closeness and trust that is automatically assumed when someone brings a small group of people who they don’t yet know, into their most intimate living space to share a masterpiece that has been inspiring people with its depth and beauty for centuries, I truly believe has no analog – and always reminds me just how much warmth and feeling there still is, all over this world.
Do you play an instrument? If so, how long have you played?
I don’t, unfortunately! I klimper miserably on the piano, and played rock guitar a lot in high school before falling mad for classical, but it wouldn’t be accurate to really say I play either of them.
What’s a dream venue for Groupmuse?
The White House! The most famous living room in America! Go big or go home! And if you DO decide to go home, host a groupmuse.
Congrats on your recent Kickstarter fundraising for the year! Concerning this year’s focus:
- Fostering the creation of more Groupmuses in more communities, uniting more folks with more musicians and more masterpieces of art.
- Building a business model that is worshipful of the art, fair to artists, and sustainable.
Which factors and resources will help build that business model? What are your first steps? What does this “look” like?
There’s no replacement for good old trial and error. The most obvious experiment we’ll be running this quarter is just charging people to RSVP. We’re also rolling out a membership program that’ll entail all sorts of cool Groupmuse and arts related perks for a small monthly fee. If neither of those work, we’ll try the next thing!
There is an amazing transparency about musician payment and how Groupmuse is run in general. Who or what do you look to in order to keep the mission– and forgive clumsy, hyperbolic words– “pure”? What kind of challenges and temptations come to possibly threaten the integrity and transparency of Groupmuse?
We look to our community – musicians and groupmusers alike! We’re much more interested in what the actual participants in the performance experience have to say about what constitutes “fairness” than outside bodies who don’t know what it’s like to play at a groupmuse and how that should be compensated.
We’re not super worried about temptations threatening our integrity – our team is made up of zealots who care much more about the art and the vision than the bank statement, but an ever present challenge is inducing audience members to compensate the musicians in a way that’s commensurate with how much they value the experience they’ve just had. I mean, a person will drop $20 on Uber to the event without thinking twice, but then when the bowl comes around, they’ll only drop in a $10. I don’t think anyone would argue that a cab ride is twice as valuable as profound and transcendent musical experience, so what accounts for that disparity in compensation? Answering that question effectively and respectfully is one of our greatest challenges, and a very important one to overcome to preserve the integrity of what we do such that musicians feel their gifts and their art is being sufficiently respected.
What inspires volunteers in their donated efforts and time for Groupmuse? Where can people sign up to volunteer?
Volunteers come from two camps: 1. People who worship and believe in this music and see Groupmuse as its great hope. 2. Community members who are extremely moved by the intimacy and warmth of our endless series of lovely evenings and believe in the potential it has to build communities in meaningful and sustainable ways.
Join us the evening of Friday, February 26th for a unique musical, artistic, and community experience: Shattered Glass will be performing ‘Serenade for Strings’ for the Massivemuse at Brooklyn Boulders!