Widening the reach of classical music

Susan Weinman always thought classical music was haughty and pretentious—until she attended a party and saw people doing shots to the Brandenburg Concerto.

“I came from a blue-collar background,” Weinman said. “Where I was from, classical music was for the wealthy.”

In college, Weinman began studying classical music and realized her notions about the art form might be wrong.

“When I got to college, I realized that Broadway was changing to more of a rock style,” Weinman said. “So my teachers started pushing me towards classical music, and I tried it.”

It wasn’t that the music was snobby, Weinman realized, just the perception.

Now, Weinman seeks to bridge the gap between these perceived ideas of classical music with her new arts company, Aurora Classical. Weinman’s goal is to expose classical music to people who would not otherwise experience it.

The company was inspired by the Philadelphia Aurora, a newspaper started by Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, which stood for the rights of the “plain folk.”

“The Philadelphia Aurora really fought hard to allow people to have access to government,” Weinman said. “I want to fight hard to make sure everyone has access to classical music.”

For Weinman, the company is also an opportunity to give local musicians a place to perform.

“I know musicians who are amazing in their field,” Weinman said. “But sometimes they don’t have an outlet to play what they want to play.”

One of Weinman’s solutions to this issue is classical music open mic nights. Interested musicians can perform any classical piece for five to ten minutes. The event is meant to be a “good time,” Weinman said, “with no judgment.”

David Pasbrig, a professor in the Boyer School of Music and Dance, performs regularly for the company.

“I like what [Weinman] is trying to do,” Pasbrig said. “She is trying to bring more music to more people that aren’t necessarily in the habit of going to these types of concerts. She has made it accessible and inexpensive, but not of low quality either.”

As an accomplished pianist and performer, Pasbrig has more opportunities to perform with Aurora Classical. Pasbrig said performed more before the recession of the past several years, which has “really taken a hit on classical music.”

Weinman, a former singer in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s vocal ensemble, also spoke to musicians’ hardships during the recession. She said they were “booked solid” in 2008.

“The following year was much different,” Weinman said. “The Philadelphia Orchestra almost went bankrupt.”

Weinman said the arts have “never recovered,” and musicians “still feel like it is the recession.” Weinman teaches singing and used to teach as many as 10 students a week—but that number has dwindled.

For Weinman, “It’s more important than ever to start this company right now.”

Aurora Classical recently put on its debut concert Sept. 13 at the Hotel Brotherhood as part of the Fringe Festival. Titled “Bon Appetit,” the humorous piece took on Julia Child’s popular cooking shows.

Audience member Dawn George said the show was “a great way to break through that barrier and share the richness of classical music.”

For Weinman, if just one person comes to an Aurora Classical show and decides to buy a ticket to the Academy of Music, the Kimmel Center or similar venues, their “work is done.”

“What we want to do is make classical music alive again,” Weinman said.

Sami Rahman can be reached at sami.rahman@temple.edu.

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