TAFTO 2006 Contribution: Joe Patti – Part 2

Continuing where we left off in Part 1, Joe Patti’s TAFTO 2006 contribution provides the resolution to his experience taking a group to an all Mozart Honolulu Symphony performance. As you likely discovered in Part 1, just when you thought you had this TAFTO contribution figured out, it slips away in a different direction. Joe’s power of observation are representative of the type of marketing data most orchestras should beg, borrow, and steal to obtain yet they can all find the material here, free of charge. After reading Joe’s second installment, I couldn’t think of a better way to end this year’s TAFTO event and I hope you feel the same way. ~ Drew McManus

The TAFTO excursion I sponsored was to the April 9 matinee performance of the Honolulu Symphony’s “Homage to Mozart” program. I arrived early so that I could secure the tickets from will call before the others in my party arrived. The marketing director ended up arranging for us to pay $10 for tickets in the sixth row which I assume is $65 seat territory. I knew this would be the situation when I submitted my first installment to Drew, but thought the alternative of offering comp tickets for a donation so that people would place a value on the experience was an interesting option to share with readers.

The Mozart program that day was actually the final event of an international choral festival in which the symphony was participating. A choral group stood on the steps of the hall singing various pieces as the audience arrived. I thought it was a good choice to help prepare people for the experience they were about to have. I also figure it couldn’t have hurt the concessions sales to have people lingering outside. (I have a budget to balance, I notice these things.) As I stood listening to the performance and watching buses from retirement home disgorge their passengers, I noted what people were wearing to the event.

I was in dress pants, shirt and shoes and most everyone was dressed as well, if not better than me. I did see some younger people dressed a bit more casually than the norm for the crowd and they looked a little anxious. It might have been because they were about to listen to unfamiliar music for the first time, but I imagine the disparity in the styles of clothing was a contributing factor. The event was not promoted as an introduction to classical music for novices by any means and I have never seen anything explicitly suggesting that people wear what they like. On the other hand, some recent television (http://www.honolulusymphony.com/ad1.php and http://www.honolulusymphony.com/ad2.php) ads might give some the impression that things are a little less formal at performances.

As I stood there waiting, it occurred to me that for any arts group, even if you tell people to wear whatever they want on the phone and in the FAQs on your website, what your patrons view as the dress code almost matters more than the image you are trying to communicate. If you promote a performance as “wear your jeans day” in order to attract a different crowd and your regular patrons come dressed as they always do, unless there is a comfortably large number of jeans wearers in the audience, people are going to feel betrayed.

Even if an organization succeeds in getting everyone to wear jeans, there are other clues for the first time attendee that the organization might be blind to about whom the real target market is. The ads in the symphony’s program book really testify to the type of people businesses envision are in attendance. The inside cover ad is for an upscale resort. The next page has an ad for a bank. I have an ad for the same bank in my program book, but where my ad has a friendly, homey feel, this ad is more formal and has “build wealth, preserve wealth, leave a legacy” across the top. Other pages include ads for Hermes, Louis Vuitton, an upscale athletic club, an IT consulting firm and retirement communities. It is easy to overlook the impact of a collection of such images on an audience. If an arts group was going to have an event focused on a younger, less affluent demographic it would be advisable to have a different program book and offer advertisers the option of inserting ads suitable to the audience. I would actually suggest a separate series, rather than a single event, otherwise you are essentially doing a bait and switch if the intent is creating long term interest. (Just to emphasize, I am making a general observation about arts events, not the symphony specifically. The symphony does have a Pops series and I don’t know what the program book distributed there looks like.)

My audience relations theories aside, I enjoyed listening to the singing and the environment it was creating. Once the others in my group arrived, we went into the hall and took our seats. As we looked around and chatted, I learned that woman who had attended the Detroit Symphony Orchestra fairly regularly before moving to Hawaii had been using her father’s season tickets when he wasn’t. She mentioned that one of the pieces we were about to hear that afternoon was one of the few that she and the gentleman she was dating (who was also present) could agree on liking. I’m guessing she took advantage of her father’s DSO tickets quite often, or at least her experience planted the seeds of appreciation if she is debating Mozart with her significant other. The other woman in our party was a little elusive when I inquired about her experiences so I didn’t press her.

The program consisted of Jacques Ibert’s “Hommage à Mozart” and Mozart’s “Symphony No. 41 in C major”, (aka Jupiter Symphony), followed by Mozart’s “Requiem” after the intermission. As the music started, the cost of my lack of familiarity with classical music became apparent. I immediately noticed that the music sounded more muted than it did during the Tchaikovsky piece I saw last year. I had no idea if the difference was the composer, the acoustics of the hall (I sat further back last year) or the choices the conductor made. The difference wasn’t so much in volume as brightness of sound I guess. Ultimately, nothing really grabbed me like it had during the 2nd movement last year (http://adaptistration.com/2005/05/tafto_reader_re_6.html)

Intermission provided an opportunity for discussion while we stood on line to get something to drink. The conversation started out well enough covering the advertisements being projected by what we assumed was the supertitle equipment used by the opera and segueing into a discussion about the Detroit Symphony. However, because I thought most of the conversation would occur after the event, I didn’t try to steer it back to the music when it moved on to our personal backgrounds which I thought would provide insight into the perspective each person brought. Unfortunately I can’t recall anything more illuminating than what I have already related here.

As I surmised, the choral element of the Requiem removed the onus of having to form an intelligent opinion about the experience solely based on the music. I actually don’t remember much about the music at all. I don’t know if that is good or bad since the piece was clearly intended to include a large number of voices. There were more than 100 people from five choral groups participating. One group was from New Zealand, two from Osaka, Japan, one from Ghana and a local choir from Hawaii. The feat of integrating and rehearsing the voices of all these groups under one director in such a short time seemed impressive alone.

The aspect that made the biggest impression on me was the soloists. I don’t know if it was a planned element of the performance, but as they sat there on the edge of the stage awaiting their turn to sing, each seemed to be in character. The soprano appeared resolute, looking out over the audience as if she were ready to face a challenge. I could actually envision her holding a shield and spear in the archetypal pose of a warrior goddess. The mezzo-soprano had a look of sorrowful mourning about her as if her child had died. The tenor sat with the faraway look of one gazing optimistically into the future. The baritone just looked morose and bereft of hope. I imagined he had been laid off from a job he held for 30 years and now with no other skills or prospects, was trying to figure out how to support his family.

Perhaps I just have an overactive imagination, but I was fascinated with the idea that their expressions were planned as a commentary on how people face life and death. Since I was rather fixated on the idea, I really wasn’t concentrating on evaluating the music itself and can’t really offer any impressions. Suffice to say I was intrigued by the visual presentation of the program.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if the others in my party had a similar reaction. I had suggested grabbing dinner afterward when I sent my initial pitch to the campus and the people in the group had been interested in the idea of going backstage to meet musicians after the performance. When the concert ended though, the couple thanked me for arranging the outing but said they were late for dance lessons. The other woman also thanked me and said she had to get home. I haven’t had the opportunity to solicit more substantial feedback since.

Now if you have been paying attention and doing your math, you may have noticed that there were only 4 in our party and I had originally been trying to get 5 tickets. The fifth member, the assistant manager of my theatre, succumbed to the pollen produced by plants treated to 6 weeks of rain. (I know she wasn’t lying because the allergy medication she is taking has robbed her of her raison d’etre – an appetite for chocolate.) Her absence was the most disappointing because her presence in the office would have provided the greatest opportunity for discussion.

I regret that events did not turn out exactly as I had hoped. There are so many variables involved with trying to arrange these sorts of experiences, they seldom do. As I noted in my first installment, if my observations inspire people to host TAFTO outings and help orchestras make their events more accessible, I think the whole purpose of the TAFTO initiative is served.