Young affiliates groups in the cultural world usually find ways to satisfy members’ eyes or ears. Some please palates by putting out meals. But Pulse? Pulse literally has their backs.
The next time you’re standing among the human sardines, watching a Fourth of July pops concert in Symphony Park, locate people lying on blankets in a comfy, strategically placed spot. They probably belong to Pulse, which sets aside prime real estate for its members.
In just two years, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s affiliate has thrown its support behind KnightSounds concerts and obtained a series of benefits for members, ranging from free concert tickets to a protected viewing area at those Summer Pops concerts.
Most major cultural outlets have groups like this one. What makes Pulse unusual is that it invites the community to concerts: The uptown Rush Hour Recitals are free to all. (The next comes Monday at Chima Brazilian Steakhouse.)
Had you attended the last one at Chima, you’d have encountered rare music, a well-filled hors d’oeuvres table in an upstairs room, and an introduction so low pressure you’d be hard-pressed to call it a sales pitch.
Co-presidents Whitney Greene and Elizabeth Rennie introduced flutist Elizabeth Landon and harpist Andrea Mumm, both principals with the orchestra. About 40 people milled around the generous sideboard and heard pieces new to everyone but the players: a serenade by Vincent Persechetti, a duo by Jacques Ibert and a 10-minute suite by Bernard Andres that had Mumm rapping on her soundboard and inserting a tuning fork between strings – all of them pleasing, if not exactly easy, listening.
The phrase “young affiliates” was interpreted loosely: Listeners in their 60s enjoyed the noshes and notes. “The name means it’s open to anyone who has a pulse,” one member joked.
But as Rennie explained, “The whole point of Pulse is to make the symphony sustainable. We need younger audiences for that to happen.” So it’s multigenerational: She, her kids and her parents are all members. (Her 11-year-old daughter joined the Charlotte Youth Symphony as a percussionist after seeing CSO timpanist Leonardo Soto play a Pulse gig.)
Alan Yamamoto started a similar group, Opus X, in 2004 during his time as resident conductor. It had faded away by the time Greene joined Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, the orchestra’s vocal affiliate, in 2009. She and a planning committee met with then-executive director Jonathan Martin to launch a new organization in autumn 2011.
Tom Burge, a CSO trombonist and Pulse member, inaugurated the Rush Hour Series last spring with a half-hour recital; it included an adaptation of parts of a Bach cello suite and a piece for soloist and tape, accompanied by his iPod.
“As second trombone, if it’s not Mozart’s Requiem or the ‘Russian Easter Overture,’ you’re not going to hear from me on the classical stage,” he says. “This comes with challenges: The acoustic is different, of course, and getting silence is easier in the concert hall. Here the ambient noise is at mezzo forte. But it’s a chance to experiment.
“I joined because what I do will not survive without young audiences. I’ve been watching the Minnesota Orchestra get locked out and the Detroit Symphony go through hard times. The future of what I do depends on the audience having a direct personal connection with musicians. We want people to get to know us.”
That’s also true of KnightSounds, where Pulse sponsors preconcert talks with musicians and themed post-concert parties: After an April concert of newish American music, members adjourned to American Roadside Burgers for an ’80s trivia contest.
You’d have to pay the $50 annual fee to go to private events, though it includes a free ticket to one CSO concert, discounts on others and Facebook promotions. Pulse has 78 members and recruits through social media, plus affiliations with similar groups at the Arts & Science Council, Mint Museums and Opera Carolina.
In the end, say Greene and Rennie, the point is to form lasting attachments to both like-minded friends and cultural traditions.
“Our mission is really to keep the arts sustainable,” says Rennie. “We want people to care about the symphony. But if we get them interested in the arts in general, that helps everyone.”