I've been a performing musician for a decade, give-or-take, so I've played in variety of places. Inside (preferred). Outside (never as good an idea as the person who asked you to do it thinks it is). Big concert halls. Small concert halls. Universities. Black box theaters. Castles. Art museums. Lobbies. Conference rooms. Nursing homes. Elementary schools. Bitterly cold churches. Blazingly hot churches. Churches of blessedly middling temperature. Churches with boats hung across their upper reaches; with elaborate wooden screens; empty; full; round; orange; dark; with galleries; with cats; with crypts. More churches.
But I'd never, in all that time, performed in a private home. Which meant yesterday, when I played a house concert down the road in Charlottesville, was my first time.
The older we get, the fewer first times we have, so I tend to sit up and take notice when one comes my way. And this particular first time was worth noticing- house concerts may masquerade as smaller versions of traditional concerts, but there's some fundamental chasm, some alteration in the essence of the enterprise that sets it apart.
If you give a house concert, you like to entertain. You have a good-sized house and are willing to invest in a case of wine. You know some musicians, or you approach some musicians, and you send out a finite number of invitations, usually 20-30, to your friends and acquaintances. You set up a slew of chairs in your graciously-appointed living room; you serve wine and deserts. You charge $20-35 per person, which is how you pay the musicians. Then you sit back, sip your hooch, and enjoy a concert in the privacy of your living room.
As an audience member, I am all for house concerts. They're short, intimate, and tasty; they take music down off the shelf and put in in your hands for you to examine and wonder at and love. By bringing music to you, if forces you to engage with music in your own context, in the wild, so to speak, as opposed to within the square cage of the concert hall. It's the way music used to played -in the chamber- yet, somewhere along the way, at least in classical music, we've left it behind.
Accordingly, the format requires some adjusting to. We classical musicians have to re-evaluate, and perhaps relinquish, many of the trappings of traditional concert-giving. Sweeping in from offstage is awkward when offstage is the coat closet. Dressing in all black smacks of the funereal, as opposed to the professional, and maintaining the fourth wall, or silence in the face of your audience, seems cold.
Ultimately, we'll have to accustom ourselves to bringing more party-going into our playing. More jokes, musical and non-. More entertainment; more stories; back-and-forth. It's still a cocktail party- even if you do happen to be lugging a violin.
In the mean time, go host some house concerts!