JULY  8-14, 2004

By Lawrence Budmen

Neisa DeWitt was sitting in the music room of her airy Pinecrest home reflecting on the origins of Classical Connections ( - a unique website and e-mail service that connects concert presenters and potential audiences. "What started as fun has taken on a life of its own," she mused. DeWitt, a retired attorney, musician, and avid music lover, is a member of the cello section of the Alhambra Orchestra, a community ensemble based in Coral Gables. (She is a student of UM Music Professor Ross Harbaugh, principal cellist of the Bergonzi String Quartet.) She needed to create a database for the Alhambra mailing list so she called her daughter in law Sharon DeWitt, a professional website designer who runs her own company Shadoworks Web Design ( Together they embarked on a project that fused music with high tech computer graphics.

"As a technology person, I said let's create a little distribution list and we'll send it out to everyone," noted Sharon. Once that database was up and running, Neisa DeWitt felt that it could fill a void left by the diminished coverage of classical music in the local daily newspapers. "As a concertgoer, I noticed the quantity of audiences was not as healthy as it should be and, also, the same faces showed up at many concert series. There is a core group of music lovers in Miami. Often they do not know what is going on so they miss some wonderful concerts," Neisa said. Sharon added "Even if you are a subscriber, it is easy to forget about upcoming performances." 

Neisa and Sharon combined their expertise and passion and Classical Connections was born. The website contains concert information for such groups as the Dranoff International Two Piano Competition, Friends of Chamber Music, Miami International Piano Festival, and Sunday Afternoons of Music among others. Program notes and artist bios are prominently featured on the site. The service's most unique feature is a series of specially designed e-postcards - concert reminders with a link to the site's homepage for further information. "With one click people can read about the music and performers. Once we started to send information to people we knew, the word spread like wildfire. Presenters started to come to us and asked how they could become a part of this service. After a year, we still find that when we put out a concert reminder, we get response e-mails from concert presenters in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The feedback has really been exciting. When I attend a concert, people come up to me at intermission and say 'thank you so much for sending us these reminders.' After 14 months, almost 600 people have book marked us in their computer system. We have had around 10,000 visitors to the site," Neisa DeWitt noted excitedly. 

Those web viewers come from far and wide. Neisa found that "The artists love it. They often visit our site independently - a member of a string quartet, someone from the New World Symphony. They always send us their comments. The artists' reaction has really been unique. We even get hits from artists who have played in the Miami area, learned about the site, and then traveled the world. Every once in a while we see something coming in from Paris or Taiwan or Russia." 

For Sharon DeWitt, Classical Connections started as an extracurricular activity to her work as a professional web designer for many commercial clients. She has also produced web pages for concert presenters including Close Encounters with Music, the Dranoff Foundation, and Sunday Afternoons of Music. We started out initially with a couple of interested presenters and a list of about 400 names," Sharon recalls. The entry ticket for a concert presenter is their e-mail list of subscribers and single ticket buyers. 

"We are very mindful about privacy issues and conflicts in concert scheduling," Neisa emphasizes. On one occasion when two organizations scheduled concerts on the same day (at 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. respectively - both in Coral Gables), Neisa and Sharon conferred with the presenters and obtained their permission to send out an e-postcard headed "Double Date." "I made a list last spring (2003) of who I thought the obvious presenters would be and I would say that we now have about 90% of them. We expect that we'll be doing the classical part of Festival Miami next fall," Neisa adds with delight. Each group's list is kept private but is included in the Classical Connections database which now numbers 2400 e-mail addresses and counting. Through the e-postcards, subscribers to one series learn about a wide variety of musical events in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. (Interested music lovers may add their names to the list at the Classical Connections website.) 

"We do not want to go over the top with presenters," Neisa DeWitt explains. "We want to keep high quality presentations and not inundate our audience. So far it is working and we are just taking it one step at a time." Sharon adds "We try to limit ourselves to one or two e-postcards per week. We want these announcements to be very special." 

For Neisa and Sharon, the experience of working on the Classical Connections project has brought them closer together. "I thought I knew Sharon as my daughter in law but, working together this year, I have grown to love her even more and have come to recognize her remarkable talents as a designer," Neisa explained. For her work on the Classical Connections website, Sharon DeWitt won the 2003-2004 Golden Web Award for "creativity, integrity, and excellence on the web." For Sharon, Classical Connections has become a labor of love. Her enthusiasm for the project is contagious. "This is a win-win situation," she notes. "The presenter gets the audience she or he deserves. The audience gets a free reminder that is very attractive. For the presenter, the service pays for itself and beyond with additional ticket sales. The whole idea is to make it simple, make it clean, make it easy. The presenters, the audience, and the community at large are the beneficiaries. It is a pleasure to do this work for the community." Indeed Classical Connections may be the wave of the future in concert promotion and marketing.