100 Dallas Creatives: No. 61 Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch

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Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email lauren.smart@dallasobserver.com with the whos and whys.

Classical music. It seems as though we've had a love/hate relationship with it over the past several decades as we continuously debate its ever impending demise. Mark Landson and Patricia Yakesch think they have a solution.

Fed up with the solitary experience of the concert hall and its seeming inability to draw in a new, 21st century audience, Mark, the classical musician, and Patricia, his marketing brain, are the brains behind Open Classical with an open mic at Buzzbrew's three years ago. It took some time but over the last few years the two have built a dedicated community of students, professionally trained musicians and just plain music lovers, and their network, and programming schedule, just keeps growing. Oh, and somewhere along the way they fell in love.

This year the classical couple are branching out even further, with new programs, free shows and more.

"Essentially, we are creating an alternative universe for classical music, both in terms of audience experience and professional opportunities for musicians," Mark tells me.

We chatted with both to gauge the temperature of the Dallas classical music community, their Open Classical mission and what's next.

What have you been up to lately? We've been very busy preparing the 2014-2015 season, which features six Artist Series programs that will be performed multiple times, a half dozen free Klyde Warren Park shows, plus expanded themed theater shows. Our signature weekly Classical Open Mic event at BuzzBrews passed its 3rd year anniversary this summer and we've been doing a once-a-month open mic in Frisco for nine months now. Both of these draw 100+ people every time, which is really exciting. So, things have been super busy!

Give us a little background on the two of you and your 'music history.' Patricia: My career has always been very focused on business and marketing. I've worked with various brands and industries, ranging from Gold Bond Powder, Fancy Feast Cat Food and a variety of health, beauty and pharmaceutical brands to the very fascinating launch of electric deregulation in Texas (no really!). But...I played clarinet throughout junior and high school, and attempted to learn the fiddle a few years ago with private lessons from Roberta Rast from The Killdares. Sadly...I couldn't commit to cutting my fingernails down to nothing. So in this duo...Mark is the artist and musician...and I try to bring some logic, business and promotional savant. You could say we have a beauty and brains dynamic and sometimes argue over who is wearing which hat.

Mark: Both of my parents are well-known music teachers of children. My dad travels the world representing the Suzuki method of childhood music education and has had many violin students to go on to high-level professional careers. I was his first "guinea pig" violin student at 6 years old, so he got to make all his mistakes on me! I was very creative growing up and wrote songs for rock bands that I played keyboards and sang in and acted in community musicals. This dual life continued in college when I wrote and starred in a sketch comedy show, and even took a leave of absence from college to form a punk band. Later, I began writing classical music that I wanted to perform like a rock band would. Pretty much all of the talents and experiences I have picked up have gone into creating Open Classical's unique hybrid of high culture and zany antics.

I have been a full time professional musician most of my life. Along the way, I picked up the skill of PHP web application programming. I now have a client base and juggle music projects with my corporate programming clients. The skill of freelance web programming allows me the freedom and flexibility to dedicate a good chunk of my time to music, and that's been a big help in pushing Open Classical forward.

  Tell me about Open Classical. Where did the idea come from? What's your mission? Essentially, we are creating an alternative universe for classical music, both in terms of audience experience and professional opportunities for musicians. Classical music is such a powerful art form that connects across a wide spectrum of ages and backgrounds. Unfortunately, going to most classical concerts is often a solitary experience that puts off some people, especially young people. We use this great music as a social glue to create communities that connect performers and listeners, and then create innovative professional classical music projects around that idea which benefits the community as a whole and creates an exciting, vibrant atmosphere.

The initial project of creating a classical open mic was unproven, and it took some time to get going. Buzzbrews took a chance on the idea, but all they were out was a couple of $10 dinners and a few beers for us. After a while, that chance paid off well for them. Now they make more money on beverages during our event than any other night of the week!

With the success of open mic, it has been a lot easier to convince venues, and every new success makes it easier. Now, venues call us! A key to our growth has been utilizing social media, posting awesome photography and sharing videos. We're very fortunate to have several great photographers come out and support us.

Generating awareness with artists was slow to come at first, but we made a point to network with students at SMU, UNT and also with professional musicians. Bringing in the adult amateur and some Dallas Symphony and Opera friends also helped build an amazing community of performers and fans. After a while, they started just coming out on their own and we didn't have to continually remind people!     What kind of impact are you having on the community in Dallas, or what kind of impact would you like to be having? Mark: It's really exciting to see that what we're doing is actually working and we are making an impact on people's lives and the community as a whole. Classical music is so powerful, and the journey of emotions it can create is without parallel in other types of music.

Some people are rediscovering their love for classical music and some are discovering it for the first time. People can feel good about inviting their friends to our shows who might be skeptical to just come hang out and it's not a huge commitment of either time or money.

As to future impact, I fully believe we can make Dallas, Texas the center of a new alternative classical music movement. There are many exciting projects going on around the country, but truthfully, no other similar project has the working formula, vision and dedicated supporters like we have. People around the country are beginning to take notice and have asked about bringing the Open Classical formula to their cities. When we are able to connect and leverage multiple cities for tours and such, the impact is going to be a sea change in the classical music structure itself. That's the goal.

How do you feel about Dallas' receptivity to classical music and what do you think the city, or the people in the city, could be doing to help you in your mission?

We've had a great reception and there are people in positions of influence that have taken notice of the impact we are having in the community. We performed for the Spring Dallas Arts District Block Party and have been invited to showcase for the Dallas Cultural Commission this month. Klyde Warren Park has been great for us, giving us prime spots during their annual celebration, holiday tree lighting and other big events. We've performed for thousands of people at the park for our "Music Moves", Fourth of July, and Halloween shows. We've been featured in various print and online cultural magazines around the metroplex which has been huge for our grassroots growth. Fund-raising is critical for continuing to achieve our mission, so we are currently taking steps in that direction, as well.

Who else inspires you to keep doing what you're doing? Maybe it's other musicians maybe it's people with similar organizations here or elsewhere? Mark: Starting a venture like this requires a huge amount of sacrifice, dedication, and faith in the vision. The initial inspiration for me was the sadness I felt to see the art form that I love heading down a path to obscurity and irrelevance. Now the main inspiration for us comes in the form of the lives that are being changed by what we do. There really haven't been any similar organizations, and in fact a lot of what we're doing is brand new. We're inventing it as we go, taking risks, and willing to make mistakes. It's exhilarating!

What's next for the two of you and what's next for Open Classical? For the two of us...if you are wondering about wedding bells...perhaps after we get this beauty and brains argument settled.

For Open Classical...we will be expanding into Fort Worth which is an important step for us. We're also concentrating on growing our Artist Series shows at amplified venues and raising the profile of our theater shows. We've been really successful at raising money through small donations, but to expand our impact and realize the larger vision, we're going to need to expand our fund-raising efforts. We have built up a broad base of support, so we're confident we can be successful at it!

100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson

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