Founder and CEO of Groupmuse
(Charles Town, West Virginia)
Sam Bodkin, the 30-year old founder and CEO of Groupmuse, visited my home. He had been coming up to Philadelphia frequently because the Groupmuse Philadelphia scene was just starting to take off and he wanted to see it through. We talked over some sushi in my dining room.
Hazel: Sam, I’m so fascinated by your company, Groupmuse. Tell me how you got started.
Sam: I had a one gap year before starting college and spent it couch surfing. People would sign up to host strangers on their couches for free and also visit others the same way. Couch surfing was the inspiration behind Groupmuse. I was touched how generous people were with one another for the sake of cultural exchange. I also liked how the network used the connective power of internet positively. Couch surfing connects people in the real world and not just virtually. You are not limited by technology but get to participate in building real human communities.
I truly believe that my love and people are far more important than my screen. Also, my faith in humanity became stronger because I realized books, food and real things will not be pushed to the side by technology because everyone will eventually catch on what is more important.
I’m not religious but I do have faith that humanity was placed here on earth for a larger purpose and to do something. Humans have roles to play in a large picture. I just don’t know what that is yet exactly.
The reason behind why people host Groupmuse events is to connect humans and to fulfill an unknown larger purpose. I really believe that we as humans and ecological beings can find purpose and truth on Earth.
Hazel: I know Groupmuse is about hosting intimate classical music events. How did you get to love classical music?
Sam: A childhood friend who is a professional cellist introduced me to Beethoven’s Große Fuge Opus 133. It’s a single movement string quartet music and he played a CD recording by Emerson Quartet in his basement. I was 19. I became completely obsessed with it. I listened to it a dozen times a day. I discovered and fully appreciated The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, and others before this. But a light bulb turn on for classical music after that. My parents have always appreciated classical music and encouraged me listen when I was younger but I didn’t want to at the time. I had to find my own way to appreciate it.
I went to the library filling my iPod with classical music. A thousand years of genius all opened up to me then.
Hazel: Sam, you have a real gift with words. You sound so poetic!
Sam: Thank you! Perhaps, my gift to the world is using the flow of my words and energizing and inspiring people with my speech. I just needed to find something I truly believed in to give purpose behind my words. I turned Evangelist in classical music in a few months as drastic as it sounds.
Up to this point, I was encapsulated in my white privileged life lacking certain spiritual depth, richness and substance. Classical music completed me.
Hazel: So tell me more about Groupmuse and what your visions are for it.
Sam: Groupmuse is like a garden and not a car. It has its own life and is organic. It’s about people who believe in making the world a more beautiful place. It’s a vision, a philosophy. Groupmuse allows us to use our most intimate place, our living space, to uplift our collective experience of community.
You don’t have to go to concert halls to experience great classical music. It can come to you, to join you in your homes. The musicians need us as much as we need them. They devote themselves to refine their craft and need our attention. They want to connect with us, inspire us and be inspired. Groupmuse allows us to become a community, a single collective organism that inspires itself!
Classical musical masterpieces give an excuse for people to gather. By hosting these events, we even get to promote artists and showcasing composers’ work. However, this is secondary to the primary purpose of Groupmuse. Ultimately, Groupmuse is about building a community and human togetherness.
Groupmuse is a facet of locavore movement. Culture is not something that is happening elsewhere but here. We are all engaged in creating a community, we just have to decide what kind.
Hazel: I’m inspired by what you’ve started. When did you launch Groupmuse?
Sam: I started it in September 2012 after spending my summer working for Tanglewood Music Festival. It got me thinking: How can we turn classical music’s social characters from being its leading liability to its greatest asset? Classical music is associated with old, stuffy, aristocratic privilege, and culture of elitism. Groupmuse uses the social quality of classical music to change its character.
I think Groupmuse works because it speaks to a basic human need. A need for social togetherness. What people are looking for is to be together and to feel good as a community. For a Groupmuse event, there is no need to set up equipment. You might need to move some furniture around in your home and you are ready for social experience. It really is a flexible mode of convening.
Hazel: You have no idea how excited I am about the movement Groupmuse has started! By allowing people to access live classical music so easily and economically, I feel it is going to really help out classical music’s market share in the world. As a huge classical music fan, I’ve been worried sick about the viability of classical music for future generations. I know orchestras are going bankrupt everywhere and young people are no longer interested in classical music. But Groupmuse gives me hope that things are going to change and have already converted non-listeners to classical music fans. Are Groupmuse members mostly young in age? Do you have information on who makes up your membership?
Sam: I’m happy to report that 70% of Groupmuser are millennials born in 80s and 90s.
Hazel: I know you go to Groupmuse events every week. Any interesting events or stories to tell me?
Sam: I do have an interesting anecdote I want to share with you. After Donald Trump won the presidency, there were lots of anti-Trump movements. Some members of Groupmuse were suggesting to host anti-Trump concerts. Ultimately, we vetoed it because we didn’t want to add to the already divided country. At Groupmuse, whom you voted for does not matter. People should share their love for Beethoven, for instance, and don’t necessarily need to talk about politics at our gatherings.
We want to lead with our hearts and then talk with our minds. We want to help with bi-partisan disconnection. In a very bi-partisan world, we need more things like music, heart-centered and neutral. I’d bet a lot of positive discussions can be had if people from opposing political views share great music together first.
Hazel: I’m glad that Groupmuse is politically neutral. I agree with your stance! Tell us about Groupmuse’s successes.
Sam: Groupmuse is now present in 12 cities in U.S. Just this week alone, we have 34 concerts going on. Since its inception, Groupmuse’s members have organized more than 5,000 concerts.
I took a few photos of Sam in my backyard after we finished off our interview. It was a sunny and warm afternoon in late September still feeling like summer. He enjoyed the shady part of my yard for a little while, smiled brightly as ever, and started his long drive to his home in West Virginia.