Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. This Friday night in a Bushwick warehouse, almost 1,000 people are gathering to watch a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, a 19th century piece of classical music. Before you ask — no, this is not a fad (baroquecore?). Rather, it’s an event hosted by Groupmuse, a social media platform single-handedly bringing classical music back into #relevance.
“By giving people a simple way to come together, share something beautiful and connect over that experience,” said Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin, speaking with us over phone.
The “mix between Meetup.com and Uber” provides an online space for three groups to come together: those who seek to host a show, to perform, and to listen. Once connected these groups will meet — usually in the comfort of someone’s home — for two 25-minute classical performances, with all donations going to the musicians. With each show at least half of those attending are doing so for the first time, which Bodkin attributes to the platform’s steady growth.
Essentially, Groupmuse has reverse engineered the process that popularized classical music in the first place, taking it out of the concert hall and back into the living room. And by providing an accessible form of free entertainment through technology, it’s removing the social inhibitions a younger generation may have felt towards all this Dead White Men music.
“[Classical music] is an inherently portable form of art with one of the most defining characteristics being that it’s acoustic and can be recreated anywhere because it’s all recorded on sheets of paper,” said Bodkin, who noted in this past week Groupmuse held five shows in New York, five in San Francisco, four in Seattle, two in Boston and one in DC and Chicago (not to mention several others taking place in Seoul, Berlin and Zurich.)
Groupmuse has also begun hosting larger monthly events called Massivemuses; on Friday, they’re having their largest one to date.
Leonard Bernstein once described Symphonie Fantastique as “the first musical expedition into psychedlia.” Needless to say, there could not be an arrangement more befitting of its performance setting.
“Apparently the whole thing was inspired by an opium dream,” said Bodkin, noting that Berlioz “would have been down” for the festivities planned, which will include the 60-piece Sheep Island Ensemble performing alongside the aerial acrobatics of Brooklyn’s Muse Circus. A “kaleidoscopic symphony,” as the description reads on the event page.
For Bodkin, it all comes down to celebrating great art embodied in classical music, which he sees as a means for creating connections between fellow humans through space and time. “That’s basically what Groupmuse is,” he said. “A technological embodiment of that connectedness… and these big events are the apotheosis of that.”
As for said space and time, Bodkin also very specifically felt the choice of Berlioz was an apt one to celebrate the growing Groupmuse community.
“[Symphonie Fantastique is] the original piece that sent classical music down the historical path it would come to follow… the idea of music being a kind of supplementary experience, something that is supposed to evoke imagery beyond just itself,” said Bodkin, noting Berlioz’s direct influence on Wagner, who in turn came to define much of modern film score music. “Which in our time, is really the most vital manifestation of the tradition of classical music.”
In that sense, the same dictum could be applied to Groupmuse.