Come over, Beethoven: You can bring a symphony into your living room for just $10

Sheet music beats an iPod DJ. by Sam Bodkin

What’s a regular Friday night look like for you? Does it involve drinking and socializing in a cool apartment? How about a string section? Oh yeah, you heard me. There’s a new beat in town for all you Brooklyn culture-seekers, and it involves all of the above.

Groupmuse is a social events platform that organizes live performances of classical masterworks—BYOB, since the performance will be in someone’s apartment. “A concert hall isn’t a particularly engaging social scene,” says Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin. That’s why he moved the music into living rooms, and pared down the concert ticket price to just $10. So for the cost of a cocktail, you can experience some of the greatest music in history, ten feet away from you. No black tie necessary.

Here’s how it works: users can elect to host a Groupmuse, or just attend one. Musicians are on a separate roster, and receive notice of upcoming Groupmuses where they can perform. It’s $10 to attend, and all of the proceeds go directly to the performers. The structure of a ‘Muse is consistent: each one starts with an informal cocktail hour. Once everyone settles into their seats (floor, couch, maybe chairs), a rep for the website gives a little spiel. The music starts right after that — two 25-minute chunks of live classical music, with one 20-minute intermission. Afterwards, guests are free to stay and chat until the host decides it’s time to go.

Classical music has a very un-sexy reputation among the generation that leaves the house every night. That reputation is characterized not by classical music’s content, but by its social character: symphonies are seen as stodgy events that can only be appreciated on a grand scale, and with a high price tag.

“Some of the greatest composers of all time were dirt broke,” Bodkin says. “They’d be turning in their graves if they knew how their music was being framed.”  At a Groupmuse, the sound still takes center-stage, but the tone of the evening is much more DIY. Throughout the night, audience members begin cheering for the performers the way you might imagine cheering for a ten-minute drum solo at Woodstock. “The volume goes through the roof,” Bodkin laughs.

Performers at Groupmuse are given free reign for what they play, as long as it falls within pre-1950s classical repertoire. “We say to the artists, play whatever you have at your fingertips. And it’s a low-impact environment; they get performance time, and an audience gets a unique experience.”

Groupmuse stemmed from a kind of post-graduate delirium. After graduating from Columbia in 2012 with a degree in Music, Sam Bodkin found himself back home in Boston, idly hanging around with a band of classical musicians. He liked how the musicians would meet up and practice diligently for a few hours, then get stone drunk together. Bodkin wanted to commune over classical music with like-minded individuals, but he also wanted to bring its sounds to the uninitiated. The idea spawned a movement that spawned a company. Cut to present-day New York, where Bodkin just recently settled down in Crown Heights with the goal of bringing his Boston business before some of the nation’s “most stringent tastemakers.” (Hey, you guys! That’s us!)

“It’s so much cheaper than going to the opera,” Groupmuse user Ben Tupper tells us. “It’s $10, versus $110.”


Robyn Bollinger at Erin's
Partygoers pile into a living room for the main event. by Erin Pearlman

Save for the classical music, a Groupmuse has all the trappings of your typical house party: alcohol, snacks, social interaction… and flirting, of course. Who would have thought classical music could be such a meet-cute?

“It’s not predatory like bars & clubs,” Bodkin explains. “The environment is warm, intimate and socially enriching.” And as far as house parties go, this one is about as inclusive as it gets: young meet old, broke meet upper crust, the music-savvy meet the I-was-just-curious. “It’s a space that utterly lacks hierarchy.” Wanna try one out? You’re in luck: there’s a Groupmuse literally every single night of the week. Just join the site, and you’ll see the details for each one and where it’s located. If you want to host one after that, you can organize it through the site. Wanna play one? That’s a little more selective: you gotta get on the roster. It may be low-impact, but it’s not amateur hour.

“Submit youtube links,” says Bodkin. “Convince us you’re pursuing it professionally. We want the quality to be high, to justify the non-judgmental crowds that keep coming back.”

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