12 December 2015

Underestimating an Audience

Earlier this week I attended an unusual book event at the Public Library of Brookline.

Author M. T. Anderson read the introduction of his new nonfiction book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. He spoke about Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, composed well after the war but perhaps looking back on it. Then the Arneis Quartet performed that work. nd finally Anderson took questions.

The audience was big enough that the librarians had to bring in more chairs, which is always gratifying for event organizers. Always better to underestimate turnout by a little than to overestimate. As at most cultural offerings, the audience leaned toward the senior side rather than Anderson’s usual readership of teens and middle-graders.

There were some kids there with their parents. I assumed they were fans of Anderson’s Pals in Peril! series. I wondered what they were thinking about this much more serious presentation, with historical/musical analysis of a composition that even some classical music fans find puzzling.

During the question session, one of those kids eagerly raised his hand. He was sitting with a friend the same age and one of their fathers. He had a bowl haircut and a big hole in one of the knees of his trousers. I wondered, how far off the topic of this event was his question going to be?

“I read your book,” he told Anderson. “How long did it take to you find out all this stuff?”

Five years of research, Anderson explained. And we all learned something.

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