What makes a performance professional or amateur?

From a concert by Edinburgh University

If a performance is being performed by students does that make it a student performance, or is it only a student performance if the performance is being organised by students - ie, if a performance is being organised by a school or university is the performance than a school performance, rather than a student performance? If the school or university is hiring a professional group to perform is the performance a school performance or a professional performance? And what of amateurs - if some of the people performing are students does this make it a student performance or an amateur performance?

In Edinburgh there are a number of "Amateur" groups that put on productions every year. Last Saturday, the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra performed a collection of Strauss works along with a piece by Stravinsky. Joining the orchestra was a professional vocalist, and although the concert was not as pristine as you might find with the London Symphony or the Berlin Philharmonic, it was reasonably well done. The conductor, Gerald Doherty is certainly a professional level conductor, but the orchestra is a "subscription based" organisation, which is to say, the players pay a small fee to participate and the money that is earned from performances goes to keeping the organisation going - not to salaries. This week The Meadows Chamber Orchestra is performing. By those in the know, the MSO are a step up from Edinburgh Symphony in terms of quality yet, the basis of the orchestra is the same. So, when these groups perform are they amateur performances?

The Edinburgh Quartet is the only full-time professional level quartet in Scotland. They perform a series of concerts throughout the year. Some of these concerts are hosted by the universities in Edinburgh, with the quartet performing student works. So, are these concerts professional concerts because the Edinburgh Quartet is playing, or are they School performances, because they are organised by universities? Or should they be classified as student performance because the compositions are student written?

What if the organiser is a professional, but the groups they are presenting are not? For example, the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra just finished a world tour and their concerts were amazing. These were all student performers, but those organising the event were definitely professionals. The halls for the performances were the best in the area, the ticket prices set a high expectation for the audience and the resulting performance exceeded the expectation. Where does this fit in the classification of a classical concert?

Advertising, does that make a difference? If someone pays for a full page ad in the newspaper, or magazine, does that qualify them as being professional? Of course not - anyone can take out an ad. Although a quality ad can give the impression of a quality performance, and most professional organisations put a fair amount of money into making sure their media coverage is "glossy", just having a glossy poster does not make for a professional performance. However, if a magazine that only lists major events (i.e. professional ones) decides to list your event does that make it professional? Well, it certainly means someone thinks it is.

I am preparing a concert of some of my works. Edinburgh Quartet is premiering a new quartet of mine at this concert and I'd consider that to put it in the realm of Professional. However, Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra is an amateur orchestra, one of the best in the area, but they're still amateur. So, maybe that lowers the level to Amateur. I am preparing to graduate from Napier University, so (for all intents and purposes) I am a student - does that make this a Student Production? Some of the people performing are also from Napier, but this is not an event organised by Napier, so I don't think it qualifies as a School or University event.

I am a student, but I am also 45 years old, with numerous performances/concerts and works presented publicly prior to returning to university. While promoting an event is not my occupation, I would hardly classify myself as a novice or a student in this regard. Amateur might fit, yet I have enlisted the help of a professional photographer, publicist, graphic artist and hall staff to try and elevate the concert above the normal "amateur" level (yes, I have a glossy poster). The City of Edinburgh's media department considers this a serious production (as it's a premier of a symphony, which is rare - and may well be the first for Edinburgh), so they are treating it as a professional, or at least semi-professional production. I have several corporate sponsors, but I am unavailable for grants as most of the funding organisations have a prohibition against funding "student" projects (I am still technically a student). At least one major (read national) magazine is listing the concert so (IMHO) that also bumps up the level.

So, is the performance coming in June a Student production, an Amateur production or a Professional one? (I'm not including school because there is no one, other than myself, from the university assisting with the mounting of this production and we are using no university resources). I would like to think of it as Semi-professional - not yet professional, but moving in that direction. The goal is for people who commission new works to consider me an option - which would put me in the professional category.

In the end, what am I really on about? Specifically, the misperception of concert goers. There are those that know me, but not as a student and who are not familiar with "student" concerts that are cheering me on, beyond excited about the upcoming event. There are others, who know me as a student who seem to think this is just another student event and not sure why I am spending so much time on it. Other people I have run into garner their impression based on who is performing or where the performance is held or their own limited knowledge of who's who in the classical world (ie, if it's not the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, they really won't consider it). Many people hear the word student and run screaming in the opposite direction as if that word encapsulated the quality of the concert/music.

It seems to be an uphill battle to get any sort of consideration by those who like to have preconceptions as to quality of the upcoming concert. And perhaps it's a hill I don't need to climb. While I would like for some of them to attend, in the attempt at changing their mind, none of these people are people who are ultimately going to lead to commissions or future work - so.... keep your eye on the prize... I am going to try and focus on making this the best concert possible and get the people there who are open to the idea of a new composer, a student, a middle-aged man with experience, and a new voice in classical music!


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