It’s tradition to include a contribution from a manager and we always try to get an opera oriented contribution in as well. This year we get a two for one deal with Palm Beach Opera’s Director of Marketing & PR Ceci Dadisman; or as she puts it, the Operas’ chief marketing gal. And that’s Ceci in a nutshell: fun and relaxed without even a hint of ostentatiousness. ~ Drew McManus Trying to …
How can you not be interested in what someone with the title “Chief Happiness Officer” has to say about bringing friends to a concert? To that end, PR consultant and walking, talking, and blogging new media encyclopedia Maura Lafferty offers up a wonderfully personal and captivating contribution. ~Drew McManus When I first met Raul, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. He checked me out & asked me on …
It’s tradition to include a contribution from an orchestra manager and one of the most difficult aspects of paring down the number of annual contributions is determining who to invite as there are so many terrific people throughout the field. But I couldn’t be happier with this year’s manager contribution from Paul Helfrich as he offers up a thought provoking piece from the perspective of someone who doesn’t always have the luxury …
As a good Take A Friend To the Orchestra exercise, I could probably convince 10 friends to buy tickets to experience a night at the orchestra for the first time in their lives. But as the Oliver Wyman’s Audience Growth Initiative study shows, about nine of those friends probably won’t return the following year.
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?”
In the orchestra world we far too often assume that we know what audiences want.
I think that there are two big fallacies in this thinking:
* that there is some kind of monolithic audience with a describable “desired concert experience”, and
* that we, in a brilliantly insightful way, understand what this “desired concert experience” is.
In my observation, what we think this is typically turns out to be is an odd combination of
* exactly what we want to hear (or play or conduct as the case may be), and
* a steady parade of what we cynically consign to the “tired old warhorses” junk pile.
If the goal of Take a Friend to Orchestra Month is to jump-start a conversation about how we can boost ticket sales and community involvement, then I’d argue that we need to think beyond simply getting new bodies inside the concert hall. Even more important is the question of what kind of experience we’re providing once people take their seats. So I’d like to tell a story about something that happened in Nashville a few years ago that energized and inspired our own orchestra.
Each week, approximately 10,000 people come to Davies Symphony Hall to hear the San Francisco Symphony. Of that number, nearly 1,500 people, or 15%, are coming for the very first time. What causes those 1,500 people to make the decision to come hear a live orchestra concert? Is it our marketing? Public relations? Word of mouth? An invitation from a friend?
One of the most exciting orchestra concerts I’ve ever attended was the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on Boston Common in September of 1998. The police estimated that the crowd was 80,000 people strong, and as I recall most of them stood packed, shoulder-to-shoulder over an area the size of a football field in front of the stage. Seiji Ozawa, whose 50th anniversary as music director was being celebrated, was ill, and Assistant Conductor Federico Cortese conducted the first movements, but it was announced that Ozawa would take the podium for the final movement, the Ode to Joy. But after only two movements, Cortese left the stage. Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer described Ozawa’s surprise early arrival: “There was some applause as the soloists entered and took their positions, but the real thrill came on the giant video screen, where the audience could see Ozawa standing in the wings, speaking quietly to Cortese. A few seconds later, Ozawa took a deep breath and walked on, as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the audience leapt up, and even the orchestra applauded.” I remember extended cheering and raucous applause. Where, we might ask, did these 80,000 people come from, and where did they go after it was all over? Many of the standard explanations for the difficulties that orchestras have in appealing to the popular audience seem flimsy in the face of this overwhelming if short-lived response. Perhaps a good place to start would be to understand the differences between the popular music culture and the orchestra culture to see how they are difficult to integrate. I have been developing a conceptual model for analyzing the structure of the popular music culture and comparing it with the classical music culture which turns out to be quite revealing.
I didn’t see my first opera until my mid-20’s.
If I hadn’t entered this wonderful and crazy world as someone who works within the business, there’s a good chance I mightn’t have been around opera at all. I’m not an “insider,” and for the first part of my career, I felt the burden keenly. I got my first job in the opera business at age 29, and I always seemed to be surrounded by colleagues who were singing along with the Met broadcasts before they knew how to read. For years I played “catch up,” and am still easily intimidated.
When I bring a friend to the opera, my hope is that they’ll be surprised, delighted, and moved by things they didn’t expect to see, hear, or feel. Depending on the opera, I also hope they’ll experience a reassuring frisson of recognition, whether at a melody or story line familiar from a novel, a play, a movie, a commercial, or a cartoon; or scenic elements lifted from pop culture or famous paintings. I hope they’ll be amazed at how good it is, and how seamlessly music, words, acting, movement, and visual richness blend into this irrational entertainment that at its best is so much more than the sum of its parts. I hope they’ll say or think “Wow!” repeatedly over the course of the evening. I hope they’ll leave wanting more, and wondering why it took them so long to check it out in the first place.
When I took my seat at a recent performance of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia my friend seated next to me immediately said “you better read the program if you want to understand what’s going on.” At intermission I ran into another friend whose fist words were “I downloaded all the information about the 19th century Russian socialists from the website before coming – did you?” This was starting to feel an awful like the frantic comments exchanged between students before a lecture or an exam – not a pleasant feeling.
Most of us only go to new places when our friends lead us there. Every marketing guru will tell you that sales are all about one-on-one relationships. I am convinced that in each of our cities, our orchestras can become the “now” phenomenon by involving the right connectors, mavens and salesmen as described in Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. We all love the music, and we want to share that love with everyone, but the way to get people through the door is to create a warm and inviting community, get people involved, and then make them feel good about the experience.
I write this having just returned from an extraordinary week in Beijing. The trip afforded me the fascinating opportunity to observe and discuss the diverse artistic initiatives now taking place throughout China. Through this trip, and to my surprise, I have come to realize two important truths. First, despite vast cultural differences, building audiences for live performances is a universal struggle. East or West, audience cultivation is the great and common challenge. We all share the burden that deficient arts education programs have caused, principally, a diminished understanding and appreciation for the discipline and value of artistic expression and the performers that make concerts and performances possible.
A few years ago it dawned on me that I was becoming apologetic about working in the arts. “Stuffy”, “out of touch”, “elitist”, you all know the claims. We hear them so often we can actually start to believe them. In our anti intellectual, populist society, the arts aren’t only marginalized, but really don’t exist at all for many people.
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.
While I do work as a theatre manager, up until I took myself to the orchestra last year as part of Drew’s inaugural TAFTO challenge, my only real exposure to classical music was recognizing pieces from Bugs Bunny cartoons and a hazy recollection of attending a performance by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra about 20 years ago. I don’t quite remember why I attended all those years ago. Though since I was a dorky college freshman I suspect an attractive woman and a free ticket were involved.
After reading the many posts in this series last season, I have to admit that I felt a bit out of place contributing to this collection of perspectives. But, as Drew reminded me, the whole purpose of the endeavor is to encourage people to advocate the art and to motivate them to introduce new people to an orchestral performance. In a way, I am that person.
May is “Take a Friend to Orchestra Month,” a new initiative started by Drew McManus, author of the blog “Adaptistration”, in order to bring newcomers to the concert hall. In the spirit of the month, Drew has taken host John Schaefer’s brother Jerry to a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Jerry has previously never been to an orchestral concert, busy as he is running a lumber yard in Queens. Today, we get Jerry’s reaction to the experience when both he and Drew join us on the program.