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In his role as ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist, Joseph Palmer gives concerts in schools, libraries, museums – even alongside puppets! His programs are each uniquely crafted for the audience he’s performing for, and always feature plenty of storytelling and audience interaction. And through his regular visits to all of our local middle and high school guitar programs, along with a series of online performance videos, Joseph is inspiring young people throughout Austin to find joy through music-making. In this blog post, learn more about Joseph’s work with ACG and approach to engaging diverse audiences.

School Visits

In 2017, Joseph made 35 visits to Austin middle and high schools, performing for more than 1,000 students. One of the main goals of his school visits in the last 18 months has been to inspire guitar students to participate in the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Solo Music Contest.

The specific design of these visits was Inspire-Support-Refine. First, Joseph developed a concert program consisting entirely of selections from the UIL Prescribed Music List. This meant that every piece he performed is one the students would be eligible to play for a UIL guitar competition. Joseph then recorded videos of many of the selections so that all students, particularly those without private instructors, would have access to excellent tutorial support for their own chosen solo. Finally, he scheduled follow-up visits at each school, styled as master classes, for the students to perform their piece for him and their peers, and receive feedback.

Joseph during a recent visit to Akins High School.

Musical Puppet Shows

At the core of Joseph’s work in Performance Engagement is the question: As an artist, what can I do to make my performances as deeply personally significant as possible?

In the UIL example above, he designed a powerful program for middle and high school students of guitar. In partnering with storytellers from Austin Public Library’s “Literature Live” program for six performances of the musical puppet show, Fifolet (in addition to a radio show performance), Joseph provided free and engaging musical experiences for about 350 diverse young people and families all around Austin.

We asked Joseph to tell us a bit more about his work:

The role of music has always been deeply significant in my life. It can express what words cannot, connect people with their emotions, and it carries the capacity to dissolve the barriers that separate people. In the last several years, I have become increasingly inspired by the idea of being able to connect with virtually any person through music.

I’ve found that combining musical performance with personal interaction can open up a space where young people can explore something beautiful, share their impressions, self-reflect, discuss emotions, empathize, and think creatively. These are perhaps atypical experiences for a classroom setting, yet they are an essential part of our every day lives.

The greatness of the art we love and produce is only manifest through the personal connections others are able to make with it. As the performer, you are the ambassador for your art, and each performance is an opportunity to connect others to the richness and beauty of that world. Oftentimes, it’s not only about how great you play; it’s about how you present the experience as a whole.

The way an artist communicates and interacts with the audience during a performance has the potential to significantly enrich the listening experience. The goal is not to merely give information, but to build audience anticipation, engage their interest, imagination, or emotions in ways that tie into the music. When done well, it dramatically changes the whole dynamic of the musical experience.

Joseph Palmer’s Performance Engagement work is made possible through the generous support of Bill & Mary LaRosa and Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller.