TAFTO 2009 Contribution: Philip Paschke

It’s always a pleasure to see orchestras get involved with Take A Friend To Orchestra (TAFTO) month and it’s equally thrilling to see the idea spread across the border to Canada. In today’s contribution, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) New Media Specialist (I like how orchestras are defining these new positions), Philip Paschke, chronicles his organization’s recent TAFTO event. And true to his New Media Specialist title, Philip includes a video of the bloggers, tweeters, and other new media folk the ESO invited to their event as they share their observations about orchestras and new media. ~ Drew McManus

I’ve been with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in one capacity or another for a long time, so I’ve had many opportunities to introduce friends to an orchestral concert experience. I find that most people are quite eager to try a new experience in the company of someone they trust, which is why TAFTO is probably the most effective way of sharing our art form with new attendees. If you’ve had the same opportunity, you are well aware of the myriad questions that accompany such an outing – everything from “What do I wear?” to “Why does the orchestra tune to the oboe?” to “How much does a conductor make?”

My favourite questions are those that reveal an individual’s pre-conceived notions about attending an orchestral performance, or questions or comments that, in their innocence, challenge my own established notions. These questions often start with the surface issues – the sights and sounds of what’s going on – but soon delve into the deep discussions that the arts have always provoked. Traditions are examined, and the music itself is evaluated on mental, emotional and spiritual levels. At the very least, sharing an experience like this with a novice helps focus my own thoughts and ideas, and renews my own passion for symphonic music. At the very best, it inspires that passion in someone else.

My business card says I’m a New Media Specialist, which in the most general sense means I’m using online tools to promote and raise awareness of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. I find it perhaps a bit ironic that we’re calling it “New” Media, when the medium itself considers the news in today’s paper to be ancient history, and “New” Media is certainly all the rage for traditional outlets these days. The term de rigueur is now “Social Media”, but by the time I get that printed on a business card (surely a dying medium itself), it too will be hopelessly out of fashion. In any case, I’m going to claim that “social” is a more accurate, and in fact, a more exciting descriptor for what I do than “new.” Plus, it fits in more conveniently with what I’d like to talk about.

As a purveyor of social media, I’m intrigued by the possibility that when I invite friends to a performance, the questions, comments and discussions are not necessarily limited to me and my friends. Through social media tools like twitter, blogs and facebook, my friends’ experiences and ideas are available to their friends, and their friends’ friends, and so on. It’s the very definition of viral marketing, and the best part is that it’s not Marketing with a capital M, for which most people have little tolerance. It sparks discussions among people that aren’t even directly connected to the original participants, in an ever expanding ripple.

To explore this idea, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra recently invited a few bloggers and tweeters to come as our guests to two different performances and share a concert experience through their own channels to their own audiences. The bloggers wrote and posted their reviews following the performances, and the tweeters shared their experiences in the way that twitter works best: live, as it happened. Turns out that the appropriateness of live-tweeting an orchestral performance is a tad bit controversial, but ignoring that can of worms for today, it is fascinating to see the many facets of a performance that no one individual sees. But why not let the bloggers and tweeters speak for themselves? I spoke with some of our participants about what social media means to the arts:

Now, reading a review of a concert on a blog may not compel someone to buy a season subscription, but I firmly believe that among an ever expanding group of people it generates far more interest than most concert reviews in the local newspaper (which are becoming exceedingly scarce to begin with). This is why it has become increasingly important to participate in events like TAFTO. Taking action to expose someone to a new experience can and will be multiplied many times through the power of social media.

Thanks to the ubiquitous channels of self-expression and connectedness that we access constantly, any experience worth sharing will be shared, to hundreds or even thousands of people. The ripple starts with a single drop, but the resulting wave crashes upon every shore – ok, perhaps that’s stretching a metaphor a little thin. But the point is, the opportunity for sharing the concert experience with huge untapped markets has never been greater, and it starts with you sharing it with one other person.