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.
So I’m taking a classical-music neophyte-greenhorn-virgin to a concert – a prospect that’s both exhilarating and daunting. How do I know what he or she will take to, or like, and possibly even love? He or she certainly doesn’t.
When I was 18 and waiting to begin my first year at Cambridge University, I taught music to slightly younger teenagers, 12 to 16 years old, in a rough neighborhood school. I tried Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and the like on them – all to no avail. What finally got them going, surprisingly enough, was Bartok.
“The Artist came from a musical family”
A sentence like this usually is in the first few lines of most performer bios (that’s when I’m still awake while reading them), and sometimes gives me a twinge of envy.
After all, I didn’t come from a musical family, far from it, and such a statement implies that there needs to be some sort of genetic code for one to understand music at the highest level. That premise can be dismissed out of hand. Then again, TAFTO has made me consider the following, if I didn’t come from a musical family, how did I get hooked?
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.
When it comes to getting people interested in what we do, I’m afraid there’s no magic bullet. It’s just not like that. The essential thing is for us to work hard to make the concert experience memorable from the moment they walk through the door. Even something small, like the way the ushers treat them or the conversation they have with the coat-check person, can make visitors feel special. In short, every concert needs to be an event. And everyone on the inside needs to give it their all, because everyone is part of creating an amazing two hours.
Hey there, music fans. Curious what goes on in symphony hall after dark? Welcome to Take a Friend to the Orchestra 2009, your one and only source for how to party with the orchestral elite. Whether it’s Schubert or Schoenberg the natives are snacking on, anyone can take a taste if they know which fork to use. And you don’t have to wear black to the ball, Cinderella. This club’s not as uptight as you might think.
Like finding something decent to watch on cable TV, determining which concert to attend from a season brochure can take some clicking. If the names and faces leave you feeling about as intelligent as your last attempt to read the Economist, don’t drop out yet. Classical music can require class of all sorts, and this introductory course might entail a little Google-ing. No shame in that, and if your search results aren’t giving you what you need, you can always phone a friend.
Rebecca Winzenried’s well-written article, “Into Thin Air,” in the January/February issue of “Symphony” was a discussion about a groundbreaking study called the Audience Growth Initiative. It caught my eye, not because its results were at all revolutionary, but because they were so predictable.
Anyone with a pulse on modern society knows that, while getting people in the door of a symphony concert hall is half the battle, once they are there, people expect certain things: Convenient parking, plenty of restrooms, easy-to-purchase refreshments at intermission, comfortable seats and, in cities such as Cincinnati, where the hall is in a touchy neighborhood, a feeling of safety. All of these things will keep them coming back.
Just when you think Take A Friend To Orchestra (TAFTO) creativity has reached terminal velocity, a contributor comes along to remind us otherwise. Case in point, Soho The Dog’s Matthew Guerrieri whose contribution reminds us what makes classical music so valuable in the first place. What’s more, he sums up what would normally take hours to discuss in merely 28 cartoon panels (that’s right, it’s one of Matt’s legendary cartoons!) All of the sudden, the economic downturn doesn’t seem so daunting. ~ Drew McManus