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In the Spotlight: Zachary Reaves

“You start setting these expectations of your audience, and they don’t always live up to them because they don’t know. It’s not their fault.”

By Andrew Kaufmann

Have you ever been to the symphony and someone applauded between movements – a cardinal sin of concert-going? While the veteran classical music aficionado knows to wait to clap until the entire piece is done, and not during the first silent moment that arises, someone new to such concerts might not know exactly how to act in what can feel like a very foreign environment.

The accompanying sense of intimidation can keep a person from ever setting foot inside a symphony hall – during a time when new patrons are more precious to arts organizations than ever before.

As a music student at SMU Meadows, Zachary Reaves (B.M. Cello Performance, ’11) began to notice that not everyone had an innate comfort with the classical music environment.

“I grew up in a musical family – my parents are violinists. So I’ve been around orchestras for my entire life,” Reaves explains. “As an adult, I realized it’s not really the norm – which was so strange to me, because it’s completely different from how I was raised.”

Reaves hypothesizes that the phenomenon of cultural intimidation might be a factor slowing audience growth.

“We’ve read so much about how a lot of orchestras are struggling because of the economy. But I’m not convinced that the economy is the entire problem. I think a lot of the time we, the artists, are the problem,” he says.

“Classical music is a very complex art, and it’s amazing what composers and performers do. But I feel that we often expect our audience members to understand that innately. We expect them to know that you don’t clap between movements. We expect them to know all these things – turn off your cell phone, turn off your baby – and that scares people. You start setting these expectations of your audience, and they don’t always live up to them because they don’t know. It’s not their fault. And it has led to an elitist perception that turns people off.”

Reaves wasn’t content to write off the problem as one for the large arts organizations to solve, however. Instead, he set about creating “Bridge the Gap,” a series of chamber music performances intended to figuratively bridge the gap between formal and informal music settings by introducing audiences to classical music in a more relaxed atmosphere. His hope is that the variety of musical styles presented by the chamber group will help turn new audiences into dedicated arts patrons.

The group’s most noticeable targets for demystifying the arts have been price and venue choice. The performances are always free, so there’s no financial risk involved to the patron. Moreover, Bridge the Gap eschews concert halls and instead plays bars and other informal settings. The group was even a part of the crowded opening festivities at Klyde Warren Park, the new Dallas showcase that sits atop Woodall Rodgers Freeway just outside of the Dallas Arts District.

“SMU Meadows professors Sam Holland and Alan Wagner helped me get in touch with the event planners for Klyde Warren Park – and they really liked what we were all about,” Reaves says. “They felt that our mission statements were very similar in trying to create a cultural hub.”

Bridge the Gap differentiates itself in other ways as well. Performers are encouraged to create a social atmosphere in which audience members can get to know the musicians (who include other SMU students, alumni and faculty), and the musical choices are always explained so that the audience can understand them rather than just have music “thrown at them,” as Reaves puts it. And those choices aren’t always Beethoven or Bartok; Jimi Hendrix and other popular music are fair game as well.

“We feel great music is great music, regardless of what era or style it was written in,” Reaves says.

Bridge the Gap continues to perform and grow, even as Reaves wraps up his Performer’s Diploma at SMU and prepares for the possibility of leaving Dallas. He is currently in the planning stages of an annual Bridge the Gap music festival to be held in early May. But because of the unique spirit of Dallas and SMU, Reaves has no plans to end or move Bridge the Gap if he does leave town.

“So many people have offered help in one way or another,” he says. “The use of venues, the advice, spreading the word – people who believe the same thing want to help sustain it. Our musicians come from all over Dallas – the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Symphony, the Plano Symphony. It’s not an exclusive club. Everybody has come together for the same cause.”

Bridge the Gap will be performing at its annual festival and at Klyde Warren Park this spring. Visit for dates and more information.

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