Classical rocker

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Assistant Professor of Music David Vickerman experiments with how audiences engage with classical music. Photo (c) Lynne Delade

TCNJ’s Director of Bands David Vickerman wants to change the average person’s perception of classical music concerts—and he’s not above using a little eye candy to do so.

“I go to rock concerts and leave being blown away not necessarily by the music, but by the experience and the feeling,” says the assistant professor of music. “That’s what I want to do for my audiences — bring the artistic experience back to them. I want them to walk away talking about it, feeling something, being affected in some way, shape or form.”

To this end, Vickerman has been experimenting with how audiences engage with classical music through his work conducting TCNJ’s Wind Ensemble and the Washington, D.C.–based Great Noise Ensemble. During shows, for instance, he might bathe audiences in complete darkness, then use lighting and multimedia to enhance the listening experience. “I think the visual stuff provides, for lack of a better term, ‘eye candy’ to pay attention to while listening to the music,” he says.

Another way he’s bringing classical music to modern audiences is through undertakings such as “The Sgt. Pepper Project,” which he shepherded for Great Noise. For that, the ensemble commissioned composers to write music inspired by the classic Beatles album. Vickerman, who conducted the premiere last fall, said recently that such shows engage people who wouldn’t typically attend classical music concerts. “We can tap into something because almost everyone has heard a Beatles song. It’s kind of like that gateway drug [to classical music],” he says.

The response to his work has been positive on both sides of the conductor’s stand.

“The students buy into the concert so hard that the performance is better; it feeds on itself,” says Vickerman.
As for audiences: “One woman came up to me about one of the pieces we played; she wanted it to be played at her funeral. She wasn’t talking about the video I did with it, or the lights I did with it; she was talking about the music.”

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