How do we get people to attend live concerts?

December 15, 2010 at 05:52 PM ·

Closing her response to my post re the best violin recordings of 2010, Laurie said: 

"it's important for us to support the live musicians of today, ... they are creating such inspiring work, it really would be sad to miss out..And with most of these artists, if you like what they do, you can also make it a point to see them perform live."

Regarding Arabella Steinbacher, whom I have now come to admire more than any other, she will be in Boston with the BSO during for the concerts of 1/27-2/1 and with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra April 21-29 including concerts in Carnegie Hall and the Troy Music Hall.

That however is an aside.  I need help.  I am deeply frustrated as a member of the Board of Directors of Troy Chromatic Concerts.  We sponsored a superb recital by Lara St. John on Nov 15th but the hall was only between a quarter to a third filled.  We have seen declining subscription sales and declining pre concert box office sales.  The local classical music radio would be the obvious place to get lesser known artists into the public eye.  But WMHT, our local (ostensibly classical) station is stubbornly uncooperative.  They take our money for paid advertisements but last year I sent them all of Arabella Steinbacher's Orfeo recordings and they have not played one minute of any of them.  I was going to do this for Lara as well and went so far as to order the discs but I was so disheartened at the station's response to  the Steinbacher discs that I couldn't bring myself to waste the ones of St. John.

I am looking for suggestions for getting people out of their houses and into the concert hall to support the live musicians of today


Replies (85)

December 15, 2010 at 06:25 PM ·

Hey, i work in public relations and do a lot of event promotions, although mainly political campaigns, but i'd suggest cancelling any advertising with the local radio station completely. You can generate exposure from publicity stunts that will a. be free to air as a news item on as many news outlets as you can manage and b. obviously increase interest.

 Hold a free concert or, and i've found this works great with entertainment event, team up with a charity organisation and split the proceeds. You get to use their name, their membership database for promotion, and you will get more people buying tickets because it also benefits a good cause. while i wouldnt say do this all the time, and certainly not for the big names, an aspiring artist wouold benefit greatly. it also ties in with the first paragragh above and will feature in print media too.

 have you tried promotional work such as "buy one get one free" for tickets? you said the seats were almost half empty, if you give them away you have a full house, and any media you invite to review the performance will see that. again, not something to do all the time, but if you get people hooked they'll come again.

what about a "wine reception prior/after the show", where media, attendees get a chance to mingle with the peformer and ask questions etc? cheesy i know but its a cliche because it works.


December 15, 2010 at 06:48 PM ·

Do your musicians have informal jam session-type groups among themselves that you don't know about?  Seriously -- I'll bet that some of your people hang out with one another and play lots of different types of music or moonlight on their own in various places.

Take a look at your local area and make a list of bars and clubs that have a reputation for good live music ... then see if you can't organize a way to send those five brass players who hang out with one another on weekends and play jazz to one of them, or those violinists who like messing around with rock or bluegrass with the guy in the back from the percussion section.  Get the word out WITH the musicians, and do it for a couple seasons.  This isn't a typical thing for orchs, who usually think of their musicians in terms of a 104-member gestalt.

Don't try to program their music, either.  Just let them be and let them play however they will.  They are orch members so at some level they will be repping the orchestra, but they shouldn't feel that the upper management has them on a leash.

Make sure that they let the audience know where they can get tickets to see them again with the rest of their orch colleagues.  And then during the season's concerts, program some of that music in amongst the Mahler and the Brahms.

And make sure that you let the concert hall audience know that there are a couple of cool clubs and bars around where they can hear the musicians up close playing different stuff.  Make a list on the orch's website.  Maybe you can have an agreement with some of the clubs whereby orch members get a discounted cover charge or a drinks coupon, and the club will have some sort of thing whereby their regulars can get discounted tickets to the orch.  Become part of the music scene of your city.

Don't wait to get the audience to come to you.  Get the h*ll out of the concert hall and go get them.

December 15, 2010 at 07:07 PM ·

Playing more melodious music  (people who don't know music won't come to hear some atonical weird sounding stuff)  They want to get "drag" away by good melodies.  I can't blame them, I play violin since a few years and I also want this... (I never got used to unmelodious or just virtuosity for the sake of it stuff)

Just my two cents.

But look at the food industry and any other, it's all the same.  (I like cherry, caramel chocolate etc, I don't want a vinegar, herb and sour cream unsweetened 90% cocoa chocolate ; )

Originality and excentricity has its place and it's find to experiment but too much of it will frighten the majority of the population!  I guess it's all about balance (between when to experiment and when to not)

December 15, 2010 at 07:10 PM ·

I can't speak for everyone, but here's my story; maybe someone else can come up with a solution to the time conundrum.

We used to subscribe to the Oregon Symphony, in Portland. The season I gave away all the tickets except for one performance was the last season we subscribed.

Our schedules are now too hectic and the typical start time doesn't work for us. I ususlly get off work at 6:00 or later, and  by the time I get home, feed the animals, cook and eat, change, it is not possible to be there by a 7:30 performance. An 8:00 performance would be a challenge, but possible. A 9:00 performance would be much easier for us to make, but my wife is not a late nighter; that may be a bit too far.
Ideal time would be 8:30 for us.

On weekends, our schedule is running errands, catching up from the week, and getting ready for the next week. A Sunday performance is always in conflict with other things, but again, the Saturday schedule starts too early for us.

How about shifting times around a bit, and see what fits for people's lives? Instead of every performance starting at the same time, start the Friday performance at 9:00, the Saturday performance at 8:30 for one specific performance. The following week, try a different time slot.

The current time schedule was created and developed in a different time; all stores used to close at 5:30 or 6:00, and some were open to 9:00. Now most stores are open to 9:00, and some to 10:00 or 11:00. Life has changed.


One other idea!
I hate parking downtown. How about a shuttle from somewhere that has ample free parking. I would much rather pay for a shuttle that drops me at the door than parking three blocks away in the rain.

December 15, 2010 at 08:15 PM ·

I agree that times, especially on weeknights, are a problem -- but I'm not sure what would solve that.  There's just no way to make a weeknight doable for me as a habit at all.  A lot of older folks go probably because as retirees, they simply have freer schedules on weeknights.

December 16, 2010 at 02:52 AM ·

How's the economy in your area?  Face it, concert tickets are a luxury, and if times are tough, people will buy food, gas, and heating oil first.  Others have commented on both programming and times.  The current fad seems to be a 6:00 start time.  I, too, work until 6:00, so that kept me away from the entire summer chamber music season here where I live.  On a weekend, it's too early to eat beforehand, but if I wait until after, I'm hungry and grouchy.  Doesn't leave a good impression of the concert.

Programming is a crapshoot.  There are people who won't go if they don't recognize the composers' names, but at least where I live, there are lots of others who want to hear something besides the same old, same old again.

If there are retirement residences (not nursing homes) in your area, can you get them to run their vans to and from the concert?  A lot of older people would love to go, but don't drive at night, or don't drive in bad weather, or just plain don't drive.  Do you offer ticket packages for families?  This can help bring in local music students and their parental chauffeurs.  More than one outfit in my area offers discounted tickets to members of other local performing groups.  If offering more challenging programming, pre-concert lectures can help, especially if you can find a charismatic and knowledgeable lecturer.

Do you know what the problem is with the local radio station?  Most of those outfits, whether public or not, are huge advocates for local arts groups.

December 16, 2010 at 03:14 AM ·

Have you considered offering a promotion through  If you aren't familiar with it, google recently offered 6 billion dollars to buy them out and they declined.  Print and radio advertising as well as direct mail do not yield the same bang for the buck that they used to.  Technology is changing the landscape of promotional marketing and groupon is leading the way. 

The way it works is, subscribers receive email for special promotions (e.g., half price dinner, discounted services like massage, dance classes, concert tickets, you name it).  If they purchase the coupon, the merchant splits the proceeds with groupon.  You only pay for what you get.  If the response is big, you make a lot and so does groupon, but if the reponse is small, you make less.  In no event do you ever lose money, like what frequently happens with advertising and mailing. It might be worth a shot.

Disclaimer:  I am not affiliated in any way with  I'm just a techie guy and I see the writing on the wall for conventional marketing strategies.


December 16, 2010 at 04:44 AM ·

I see symphonic concerts as related to movies, plays, and the opera. The relationship is that people sit and the focus is on the presentation.

Of those, movie attendance is up, and the rest are down. Price is not the driving feature. I think that sitting without any level of activity is outside the normal scope of people's universe.

I don't suggest popcorn and 64 oz. beverages, but I think maybe having something like a fruit and cheese plate, along with some wine options would improve the overall acceptance of the experience. Even if they like the music, they may not be able to sit for two hours and just LISTEN; they need some kind of multitasking. Snacking may be a good way to do that with minimal interruption.

December 16, 2010 at 05:01 AM ·


I'm out of the house attending live music events every week, but they are simple, informal, and easy to attend.  Over the years I find I'm increasingly avoiding events that require buying tickets in advance and a change of clothes.  This is the case for me in music, theater, and dining.  Come to think of it, this has become the trend in most of what I buy.  I buy over the Internet everything I can to avoid the hassle of going to a store or even worse, a mall.

I don't think I'm that uncommon, and I wonder how much of the decline in classical music attendance is due to the difficulty of consuming the product? 

It isn't about money for me.  I'd pay $50 to hear a good violinist at a local coffee shop, but not bother if it were free at the civic concert hall and I had to iron a pair of pants.

Geez, I sound like Oscar Madison.

December 16, 2010 at 05:05 AM ·

Why should the public support soloists and conductors who compose nothing?  Thats been the dominant theme and look at the results.

December 16, 2010 at 05:17 AM ·

Funny that my wife should just hear from a relative about this--one that doesn't go to many concerts.

"We just returned home from an Andre Rieu concert at the Bank Atlantic Center in Ft. Lauderdale.  It was a memorable evening.  Not only was it a fun concert, it was a fun evening.  It began with the orchestra members walking down the aisles to the stage and their places.  The women members of the orchestra were wearing beautiful jeweled ball gowns of different colors, sparkling all evening... It was a real experience.  The box had 10 theater type seats, a stocked refrigerator, a table and chairs, a bar type table and stools and a bathroom.  Our waiter came in several times to see if we wanted anything.  We ordered a pizza.  During the concert, when the orchestra played something we felt like moving to, we danced, a waltz, a merengue, etc.  It was fun."

December 16, 2010 at 07:40 AM ·

two tips i know works very well to fill a hall:

a) during the first concerts, have a paper at the entrance where people can write their email addresses if they are interested to get more information about coming concerts. assemble a mailing list.

b) use the mailing list

c) serve coffe, tea and cookies in the pause.

December 16, 2010 at 07:54 AM ·

An off the wall idea.  For me, going the easy listening route would be a form of slow suicide. I love the standard repertoire, but I also believe that only playing the great music of the past is a way to turn concert halls into museums ....or tombs.  Heading in the Andre Rieu direction would only make matters worse, in my opinion, ensuring an increasingly blue-haired not-really-classical-music-loving audience (god bless them).  In other words, you'll lose your committed classical music lovers.  And young people won't go, for sure, so there goes your future.  (Worse, with all due respect to Andre Rieu, I don't know how I could sleep at night devising those sorts of programs....although I can understand the appeal of the shorter-term payoff.) 

I'm thinking of something more adventurous, something akin to the sort of thing that appears to be working here in NYC and elsewhere called the Wordless Music series ( The philosophy behind these events is as follows:

"Wordless Music is devoted to the idea that the sound worlds of classical and contemporary instrumental music -- in genres such as indie rock and electronica -- share more in common than conventional thinking might suggest. To illustrate the continuity between these worlds, the series pairs rock and electronic musicians in an intimate concert setting with more traditionally understood classical music performers. The goal: to bring audiences together, and to introduce listeners from both worlds to composers that they might otherwise not encounter, for a completely new concert experience. In so doing, Wordless Music seeks to demonstrate that the various boundaries and genre distinctions segregating music today -- popular and classical; uptown and downtown; high art and low -- are artificial constructions in need of dismantling."

While some might perhaps view this as another form of pandering just like the Andre Rieu type of pandering --just chasing after a different audience -- I don't agree.  At least I don't agree that it has to be that way.  The fact is that the lines separating new music and "indie" music and other genres are blurring.  Those young people that flock in droves to see a band like Radiohead or The National (a band that has collaborated with Nico Muhly, for instance), or Bjork or, the instrumental groups featured in the Wordless Music series, are, in my uninformed but gut opinion, a potential audience for exciting (and by that mean I don't mean the sorts of atonal music of the previous century that caused a stampede from the concert halls), adventurous music -- particularly if paired creatively with equally adventurous indie, electronic and other music (music that has a considerable, if not Lady Gaga-sized, audience). 

If I hadn't been to several of these concerts myself, I might suspect the whole thing would be kind of like sugar coating the pill of classical music, or luring indie music fans to see their favorite bands and force feeding them a little classical while they're there.  But it doesn't have to be that way, and in my experience at these concerts, it most certainly is not.  These are exciting and eye-opening events, presented honestly, and the audiences seem to get it immediately -- the connectedness of the supposedly worlds-apart genres of music. 

So rather than doing nothing but what you've always done, or racing further into the past in search of "palatable" music of bygone eras, I would turn toward the future, or at least to the vital music being written and performed today. 

I found this quote from the NYTimes (Allan Kozinn) on the wordless music website:

Wordless Music, a series now in its second season, is an experiment in genre mixing that has shown what can be done when you value imagination more than formats and rules. Usually matching rock bands with classical chamber groups, the program has built a following among young listeners on both sides of the street.

Of course, all of this is easy for me to say. I'm just spouting off the top of my head. I don't run the Wordless Music series, or any series for that matter. But maybe contacting someone who does -- Ronen Givony at  -- would be worthwhile. Maybe not. Couldn't hurt. 

I wish you the very best of luck.

December 16, 2010 at 01:45 PM ·

The anser is simple.  Education.  Since arts education is dwindling it's no big surprise that  people have zero interest in attending a concert of music they don't understand or like.  A family of 4 would much rather spend $120 for tickets to a ball game, and then pay extraordinary prices for a hot dog and beer.  Likewise, a movie is more expensive as well.

Let's face it, we live in a world where people are dumb and would rather see special effects than be witness to true beauty.  There is no such thing as real art and beauty anymore. 

Of course it doesn't help that classical music concerts are stuffy and boring.  Who wants to go somewhere where they have to sit perfectly still, have to have a college degree to know when to applaud, feel too guilty to cough, and don't have anything that keeps their visual attention?  The audience is changing therefore the art must change.

December 16, 2010 at 03:27 PM ·

I don't know if there's no real art and beauty anymore, or if people are mostly dumb, but I think you're spot on, Marina, about the other stuff, particularly about the stuffiness.  It brought to mind a fascinating  piece by Alex Ross, "Why So Serious?," about the evolution (or is that devolution) of concert formats and etiquette, and some new and promising trends. If you haven't read it, you might find it interesting:  

December 16, 2010 at 03:54 PM ·

The advice given in this thread is excellent, so much so that I'm going to print out the entire thing for my own personal reference. I don't have much to add, but I think it would be instructive to look at the way Barack Obama's campaign was run and how he raised millions of dollars from many very small donations rather than from few large ones. It suggests the elements of patience that one finds in building a large structure-- it's got to be done one brick at a time. There's also the way he used the electronic medium to reach out in ways that have not been well-explored before.

But the the thing that underpins his success is that he had a core of volunteers that believed in him.

I suspect that we in the field of classical arts would rather play music than be fundraisers, publicists, and precinct captains, and I think we have bought too heavily into the idea that there is a system or method that will do the job. If only we can find the magic button and press it, our problems would be over.

I'm coming to the conclusion that I should have a meeting with the 35 or 40 people who regularly come to our concerts and enlist their aid. I'd ask them to bring a single friend-- just one person-- with them to the next concert. Then I'd ask those folks to let us know what they did and did not like about our performance, what days and times would be most convenient for them, and so forth. You need to get people excited about your group and what they are doing, to encourage them to have an emotional stake in success.

December 16, 2010 at 04:43 PM ·

I think one of the core things that is needed is to identify who will pay for it. Then find what they are willing to pay for.

If you do not do that, the next question will be to find out how to get musicians to play for what the group above WILL pay.

The people that attend the event will pay, either through being willing to tax themselves, or by sponsoring, or by ticket price.
There will always be a group willing to pay for the sake of the orchestra, but you will not find this brings anything more than a subsistence income. Not adequate for any quality of life.
It is the rest of the population you need to address. Their lives have changed significantly in the digital age; the number of distractions and attractions has made their life different. If you take someone from the 50's, and plop them down in the middle of society, they would believe they are on an alien planet. Someone from the 70's would have a similar feeling.

Ignore the social changes at your peril. I do not think you need to pander to them, but if you think if symphonic music of 100 years ago, or two hundred years ago, was it something that carried forward to today? It changes, and always has.

That said, the challenge is find how to keep the soul of what you need to present alive THROUGH the change, not resisting the change. I recognize that noise is a distraction, and must be seen as something to avoid. That is why my earlier suggestion was wine and fruit/cheese for the snack; anything crisp or crunchy should be avoided. Don't go the baseball route and have hot dogs; be realistic.

Take a look at the potential people that you want in those seats! You can't dictate to them too much, and expect them to sit there. If you make it too much of a challenge, you will be playing to empty halls with increasingly less public support. No matter what you want them to be, it is not in your power to change them. Live with it.

December 16, 2010 at 07:55 PM ·

"... getting people out of their houses and into the concert hall …."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I agree with Janis: "Don't wait to get the audience to come to you."  Musicians are going to have to keep finding ways to go where audiences are -- even if it means giving a little more free time.  Especially for small groups and recitalists, there are plenty of opportunities outside concert halls and recital rooms to connect with live audiences.

Recall, for instance, Josh Bell's busking sessions.  This response post really grabbed me: "… all the children wanted to stop and listen.  They knew.  But their parents kept them moving on."

My city has an excellent symphony orchestra.  I've caught these folks on radio several times; but most live performances are in the evening, and my schedule calls for early to bed, early to rise.  Then, too, one seat for one concert costs more than an online order of quality gut strings that I can make last for 90 days.  Recitals are a different story, since they often take place during weekend afternoons at non-concert hall locations and at far more reasonable prices.

About the stuffy aspect of classical concerts: One thing I'm encouraged to see, but would like to see a lot more of, is that some players -- like Josh Bell, for instance -- are setting aside the formal penguin-type outfits for something more functional and practical.  Not only does this help to break down the wall of stuffy elitism.  To me, as a player, it makes much better sense.  Classical playing is intense work -- often hot and gritty.  Why make it more challenging that it needs to be?

December 18, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

I play in and am on the board of a community orchestra, and this issue is a common topic at board meetings.  We are trying to collect data on what works and what doesn't.

We just played a popular, well-attended holiday concert with orchestra and chorus.  The program offered challenging works (e.g. Lux Aeterna by Lauridsen) interposed with more familiar ones.  The end of the concert was an arrangement of the 12 days of Christmas, and the conductor invited the audience to sing along, which they did, and enjoyed.  

That mix of challenging pieces and short crowd-pleasers seems to be a more successful formula--at least for a community orchestra/chorus group--than a straight program of standard classical repertoire.

I'd also add that especially in today's economy, ticket prices can be a real barrier.  Seniors like to go to classical concerts, and generally have time to attend them, but it is hard to afford them on a fixed income.  

December 19, 2010 at 07:31 PM ·

 There are many answers here. Some of them are simplistic, like suggesting cookies during intermission. Some don't seem realistic, like sending musicians out to jam at bars: those audiences will likely not pay for a classical concert ticket (barflies know a bait-and-switch when they see one). Some just seem rather far-fetched, like suggesting that conductors and soloists should be composing music. Some suggest organizing concerts just around THEIR personal schedule. Some suggest discounting, which I am strongly against. Education may work--or it may not really increase audience size. I don't believe, as does one poster, that no one values art or beauty anymore. I don't believe that a good concert is stuffy and boring just because it has classical music. Classical tickets may not be cheap, but people are certainly willing to pay many times more to see 70s rock dinosaurs with one surviving band member.

The fact is, there are many forces allied against classical music concerts, and it's difficult to know what, if anything, will fill the seats at Troy Chromatic Concerts because none of us really knows the area. The entertainment pie has been divided and subdivided constantly everywhere in recent years. Even some sports, like professional golf, have seen their heyday come and go.

However, from my own experience in a rather geographically isolated area in southern Oregon, I think that one can fill seats, and we've been doing just that with our symphony and for many other groups. I think it's a combination of many things, and not just simplistic one-liners:

-Personality: our new conductor has certainly generated enthusiasm, sold-out concerts, and increased subscriptions

-programming: just the right mix of old favorites and challenging works. Is the concert the right length? Is it too long (I have a feeling many concerts are)

-Timing: who else are you competing against on a given day?

-quality: audiences know quality performance. 

-Venue: this covers so many things that could discourage an audience, especially seniors. Even just a poor bathroom situation can keep them away. But acoustics, lighting, general ambience, and parking all play a roll.

-marketing: Venue can also have an effect here. Two weeks ago I organized a sold-out Bach-only concert, and part of the reason was certainly venue. We had a "captive" audience because my 4 vocal soloists were all leaders of the venue's church choir, and that brought in a very large contingent to support them. I could have gotten a cheaper venue, but audience size would certainly have been smaller. Sometimes local stars can bring in more people than nationally-known ones (how many people outside of classical music recognize the OP's recital soloist?).

-as conductor of a local amateur adult string orchestra, I'm always attuned to who will bring in audience with them. For example, I organized a concerto competition students that brought in many more audience members for the final concert. The same kind of "halo" effect that choral concerts generate by bringing in friends and family of the chorus.


December 20, 2010 at 06:24 AM ·


Congratulations on filling seats!

I agree that enthusiasm can balance against other things, and result in a significant effect. I have thrown in a handful of one-liners, and they may be effective also. I think that there is no one single right answer. One of my beliefs is most business enterprises survive more because they make fewer mistakes than the other guys.

For music to have people pay to attend, it will need people to want to show up. Lots of things work, some have more of a downside that others. One-liners do not make a long-term process. Enthusiasm works, and with the right underpinnings, it can be a long-term process, and a very successful one.

You appear to be against a schedule change.
I did not indicate adjusting to my personal schedule, however I DID suggest trying to identify if the current schedule is out of touch with current society. There is a significant difference. The reason many businesses are open later, with all the expense involved with scheduling, etc. is because it works, and generates revenue. Ignore that aspect at your peril.

December 20, 2010 at 08:30 AM ·

Speaking of scheduling, the NY Phil runs "rush hour" concerts.   Short-ish programs without intermissions, at around 6PM. The idea is to catch NYC workers who used to have to go home, have dinner, get dressed, and turn around to get back into Manhattan by 8 and let them instead catch a show before their outbound train.  Don't know how successful they are, but it's something worth keeping in mind.


December 20, 2010 at 04:29 PM ·

This continues to be a fascinating thread. It has alerted me more than ever to the conditions in our modern world that compete with the arts. I think that some, like the distractions of Facebook and Twitter that seem to occupy way too much time and rob people of their ability to concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes, are simply fads that there's nothing we can do about except wait for them to run their courses.

I'm reading a lot here about how the high cost of tickets is keeping audiences out of concert venues, but so for I haven't seen any examples of where the tipping point is or any solid evidence of how much is too much? Anyone want to contribute examples?

In my city (Ithaca, NY) we have Cornell University and Ithaca College, both of which have strong music programs. Concerts of all types are abundant. Many are free, and anything more than 50 people (above the student crowd) is considered a good audience. The upper limit on ticket prices seems to be $18 - $20. A few years ago, the New Violin Family held a convention here with a closing concert that was open to the public. Ticket prices were $8.00 for students and $12.00 for adults. About 200 people attended. A week later, in the same venue, Yo Yo Ma and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra sold out all 1600 seats at $65.00 apiece. Grrrr.

December 20, 2010 at 10:40 PM ·


In thinking about it, I'd agree that scheduling can be important. Actually, our symphony just changed from 8 to 7:30 pm concerts to accommodate our seniors. It's not always easy to change, though. Church venues, for examples, are often more available at certain times than others. And musicians with families or other jobs aren't always available during the day.




December 20, 2010 at 11:05 PM ·

Robert- consider yourself very, very fortunate.  Last time Yo-Yo Ma played here, tickets were $250 each, in a 2000 seat hall.  For one of the last orchestra concerts I tried to attend, they had sold out of the $35 tickets, but had several seats left in the $85 section.  The $30 opera tickets sell out immediately; the next price level is about $60, going up to just shy of $200.  And so on.  You have to pick and choose carefully, especially on my budget.

December 21, 2010 at 05:53 PM ·

I appreciate all the responses to my initial post.  Some make sense, some, like polling to ascertain the tastes of our clientele has been done and done more than once.  Interestingly, the greatest response is for symphonic music played by world class ensembles - and we have in recent years, enjoyed the Russian National Orchestra, the Hamburg Philharmonic, the Sao Paulo Orchestra, the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater, the Czech Philharmonic and others.  A major problem is that we never make up in box office receipts what we spend engaging these large orchestras!  We also have had the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on more than one occasion, Le Violins du Roi, The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, Hilary Hahn in recital, Leila Josefowicz in recital, Stephen Hough, Garrick Ohlsson, and Helene Grimaud. 

We have been losing money every season.   I am not a big social person and don't really know lots of people, yet many of those I do know claim to either like or love classical music - but those individuals rarely attend our concerts.  What puzzles me is that the Troy Music Hall is world famous for its acoustics.  It is perfect for recitals and chamber orchestras.  The hall tends to get over driven with large symphonic works.  I have endured a performance of the Shostakovitch 10th Symphony that made me want to plug my ears!  In Boston's Symphony Hall which is twice as large, this would have been perfect!   But we don't have much control over what the orchestras play.

I see our problem as one of marketing and publicity.  I have no training there and so continue to welcome any further suggestions from those who do.


December 21, 2010 at 06:18 PM ·


It's unlikely that many classical music presenters can make do with ticket sales. One figure I've heard (my wife has worked with symphony orchestras and is now marketing director for a music festival) is that for a symphony, perhaps only 40% is covered by the box.

You mentioned you were on the board. What are the fund-raising capacities of your particular board? Do you have a working board, or a fund-raising board? Getting out and raising money is difficult for most people, even board members. But that is, to a large extent, part of their job. Does your board have the "right" people? Are they connected with a network of the "right" people? One attitude for boards is to either bring in $$ or get out.

One other question: do you have competition? I notice there are some colleges in your area. Do they have anything similar? I know that our area probably could not support two chamber music presenters or two symphonies.

In far northern California, a symphony I perform with, the North State Symphony, consolidated a few years ago from the symphonies of 3 different cities 80 miles apart. It is now a viable organization. Is that a possibility for your organization?


December 21, 2010 at 07:59 PM ·

As with all things in life, a person pays for entertainment that has the most value to them. 

Professional sports have no problem selling tens of thousands of tickets at high prices.  Then there's the over-priced beer and hot dogs.  Sports fans have no problem paying outrageous prices for a couple hours of entertainment where they can yell, scream, and high five the strangers sitting in their section.

The state of Minnesota is spending over 1 million dollars in order for the Vikings to play in a college stadium due to the collapse of the dome roof.  The state of  MN claims it's broke and state employees have not had a raise in three years and have had to take days without pay in recent times.  Yet, when a sports tragedy occurs they pull some big bucks out of the coffers.  Sure, not having the game in Minnesota will indeed take revenue from the state and local bars but had the roof collapsed on the Gutherie  theater would the state have stepped in with funds to rebuild it within a week?

The arts are up against pretty stiff competition for the audiences spare dollars.  Our society in general does not value the classic arts such as orchestra performances or opera productions.  Our local children's theatre has sold out performances all year because it's the friends and family of the cast members who are paying to see the performances.  There is a personal connection, much like the sports fan feels a connection to their team and fellow fans. 

I feel that is what is missing from the audiences who are still attending live classical music concerts...there is no comraderie.  We dress up, we get to the theatre, no one talks to anyone else, we have to speak in low voices as that is what is proper, we find our seats, we sit rigidly still during the performance and then we get up and quietly walk to our car.  There's no high five'n when the soloist hits that perfect note,  we aren't discussing last weeks performance with the strangers sitting in our section, there aren't any wine and cracker vendors hawking in the seats. 

Classical music needs to be more user-friendly to the masses and not cater to a very select type of audience.  As more and more schools cut fine arts from their programs, less and less kids are going to grow up even knowing what classical music is.  Why would they then attend concerts as paying adults?  Their money is going to go to rock concerts, sports, and iPads.  Things they have grown up with and feel a connection to.

December 21, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

Case in point:  when is the last time you were standing in the grocery check-out line and the tabloid headline read:

"Hillary Hahn gives birth to alien baby"

And if that was next weeks tabloid news, how many people in the grocery store would know who Hillary Hahn was?

The general public has no connection to the stars of classical music partly because they don't even know who these people are.

December 21, 2010 at 08:59 PM ·

In response to Scott's query, we are a volunteer board serving up to two consecutive terms of 3 years each.  We are set up into committees; publicity, fund raising, artist selection etc.  We are in the midst of our 114th season.  We have a history.  The problem (s) I see have been pretty well hashed over in this discussion and some new ideas have come to light.  Some of what you guys have said is downright scary!

Perhaps we will eventually either die or evolve in the direction of "music without words" .  But if that were to be what we become, I certainly would no longer be interested in attending our concerts.  I would like to know how to get those friends and acquaintances whom I believe already at least "like" classical music to commit to purchasing season subscriptions.  Quite frankly I think there is nothing else that comes close to our admittedly small scale operation short of the Boston Celebrity Series and Carnegie Hall.  I mentioned some of our previous artists and groups but neglected to mention that we also have sponsored choral groups and vocal recitals by such as Michelle DeYoung.  We also recently had the Burning River Brass.

Check out



December 22, 2010 at 12:26 AM ·

I checked out your website. What is there is aesthetically pleasing but it seems a little bare for the level of artists you're featuring. Maybe you want to look into a blog? The Minnesota Orchestra has a great blog co-written by one of its violists and its principal pops conductor called Inside the Classics. Together the two also host a concert series by the same name, where they discuss the piece in the first half and then perform in its entirety after the break. (Most orchestras have series like these nowadays.) It reaches out to the community in a unique way, especially for younger (or at the least, Internet-savvy) audiences. I don't know exactly how much revenue or concert subscribers it's bringing in, but glancing at their ticket availability, they've sold at least half to two-thirds of the seats in Orchestra Hall for their next Inside the Classics presentation in late January. Something about the charisma of the people involved, the idea of an interesting educational series, and a well-written thought-provoking blog is obviously attracting people. Having a direct connection to the performers like that really cements the bond between them and audiences. That connection is invaluable. If you have it, audiences are much more likely to support musicians and go along wherever musicians choose to bring them. Since you're not an orchestra and you don't have a figurehead like a conductor, maybe the presenting organization itself itself needs to provide it. It might be worthwhile to scout out a good local classical music writer who is a member of the community and can publicize your series online (and hopefully in print, too). Build up a website and archive information about and interviews with your past artists to establish the caliber of people you're featuring. This is a project that you could expand or contract as necessary.

The only chamber music society that I'm involved in is the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in Winona, Minnesota, which consistently sells out. In fact, last season, several of their concerts for July were sold out in March within minutes of the tickets going on sale! I don't know exactly why, but these are some of the elements that I've seen that have contributed to its success... Tickets are cheap (Yo Yo Ma was $35 a person; less for a student). For normal concerts, they are $17 for a student, and half-price if you have a poor seat. The repertoire is a balance between old classics (Beethoven is in practically every program; hence the name of the festival) and other pieces not often heard, so both casual listeners and more devoted classical music lovers can feel both comforted and challenged. The venues are beautiful to be in and convenient to get to, with free parking. The festival is publicized and appreciated by the local press. But most importantly, there is a palpable sense of excitement, of wanting to tell everybody you know about what you've just experienced. People come out of the concerts just buzzing.

It might be worthwhile to assemble a list of chamber music societies, or even orchestras, that are doing (comparatively) well, and then try to figure out what exactly about their approach is or is not bearing fruit.

December 22, 2010 at 01:01 AM ·

One of the reasons I avoid events (not only musical ones) is the crowd and the parking. I would enjoy a shuttle that started well away from crowded parking and pay lots, and I would be more than happy to pay for the shuttle. The benefit would be that I would not be competing for a parking space with three or four other evening events.

I also think that it could be possible to expand the 'community'. The musical community is already committed at some level to support the events; if you attend other events with some principles or members as a 'chamber of commerce', they could be championing the concert events. I could see two or three musicians showing up at a wine tasting event, not with instruments, but with seating charts, possibly with a computer or tablet so someone could download a few music samples from an upcoming event.
A related idea would be to have an MP3 'briefing' for attendees so they could listen about the event on the way to the venue. Anything to get them to feel more involved with the music community.

December 22, 2010 at 02:02 AM ·

That is a good idea.  The biggest obstacle to drawing new people into the realm of classical music is the lack of understanding of the music and the composers.  Pop and country appeal to the masses and the classical community needs to find a way to get the foot in the door.

December 22, 2010 at 02:44 AM ·

The fundamental problem is that you are dealing with an art form that is a solution looking for a problem so to speak.

Young, talented musicians are selling lots of tickets. Look at ukulele artists such as Jake Shimabukuro. Old musicians such as B.B. King are selling lots of tickets.

December 22, 2010 at 04:57 PM ·


Who is Jake Shimabukuro, who is B.B. King?

If you are telling me that "Pop" music sells well while classical music does not, you are not telling me anything I don't already know.  I am looking for ways to attract people who avow a love of or at least interest in classical music to our concerts.  FWIW, I know of someone, never met him, who enjoys listening to classical music on his "stereo" and doesn' t like live concerts because the coughing, other noises and inappropriate applause keep him away!  (I wonder how good his hearing is, how attentive to sound - tone quality, texture, - he is, because I NEVER heard a sound system of any sort, especially a stereo that even approaches the quality of live music in a venue like the Troy Music Hall.  The multi-channel SACDs now available do approach that standard and I have heard 3 really good systems - but even teh best of these only APPROACHES   the quality of the live sound of which I speak.  They certainly do not come close to replacing it and I would never give up live concerts to listen to recordings!

December 22, 2010 at 10:33 PM ·

Part of the problem is that in comparing itself to pop and rock, classical music is comparing itself to genres of music that DON'T get the bulk of their audiences from live concerts.  Recouped bands make the bulk of their money from live concerts (and the t-shirt sales that go along with them), but most of the money is made from recordings (and back in the day, radio play).  An awful lot of crazy-obsessive fans of a given band might consider seeing the band live to be a once-in-a-lifetime special event.  The Grateful Dead is such a unique thing that it might as well be the only band of its kind in the universe.  99.9999% of bands are not like that.

Classical music is in a unique situation where it has a live ethic in a world of recorded music.  I still feel that going out and getting the audience is what needs to be done, and I do not feel that there is no crossover between classical fans and fans of other forms of music.  (If you do feel that way, then you might as well crawl into the grave now, because what you are saying is that your audience IS dying and you can't replace it.)  But you can't take too many cues from a world of music where the radio play version of a given song is THE version.  Classical is much more about actually seeing and hearing it being made before your eyes.

December 23, 2010 at 06:12 AM ·

I think Janis has a very strong point. I know I wouldn't blink an eye (budget allowing) at tickets for $60 or $80 for a live classical performance, but I wouldn't do that for my favorite country, blues, or bluegrass bands. I see about one or two movies a year because I think they are overpriced for the entertainment they generally provide (too much effect, not enough art).

One thing I haven't thought of earlier; what is the break-even point for ticket sales on a typical performance? Is it worthwhile to have more events, in a wider range of locations (and possibly times)?

I think of the Starbucks model; although I don't like their coffee (they burn their beans too dark), I am very impressed with their achievement. They created a market, and capitalized on it. Until their model became the norm, coffee prices were slowly inching up to $1.25 or $1.50 a cup, refills included. Some were still under a dollar.
They made people pay more per cup and love it. 

How can classical music performances get some of that! Star Power? I think that the better way is to make the entire event the thing. This includes getting them involved via web methods, making them feel part of the event, making it something more 'alive' than simple passive listening.
That said, is the real goal getting more butts in seats, or is it simply more revenue from those butts?

December 23, 2010 at 06:18 PM ·

A good part of marketing classical music, to be honest, would be the coffeehouse "organic everything" crowd, methinks.  The live ethic that classical has is pretty much like saying it's unprocessed, organic music.  Most pop and rock nowdays (sadly) is so heavily processed that it has as much in common with music as Cheez-Whiz has with cheese.  It should be spelled myoozik for legal reasons since it contains very little unprocessed actual music anymore.  Music that comes in a big, orange block, like Velveeta.  :-P

Unprocessed, non-auto-tuned music could be a big seller if it's marketed like "music for foodies."  Unmixed, unprocessed, free of commercial dyes and preservatives.  That to me is the single most significant distinguisher between classical music and a lot of the pop stuff that's around now -- and it's not only classical music that boasts it.  Good past-era rock and pop can fit into that category as well.  One of the big reasons why my own taste in pop/rock stops at the early 90s is because I want to know that the people singing can actually hit the center of the note, that the music was written by those performing it, and that the guitarists, drummers, and pianists actually learned how to do what they did.  I want to know who I'm applauding, and I don't want it to be some nameless kid playing with computer software autotuning a singer that can't even sing.

That sort of snobbery (and I mean the word affectionately this time) could easily be a linchpin of marketing for classical music.  Not Pro-Tools.  No Tools.

December 23, 2010 at 07:53 PM ·

It's been around for 800 years.  It'll run a new course.  :-)  And a lot of the stuff that we now consider classical wasn't when it was written; I'm thinking of most potboiler operas and the comedies that Rossini wrote.  In 150 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber will be a "classical composer," as will John Williams and Howard Shore.  The classical canon is always added to ... just very, very slowly.

December 23, 2010 at 08:12 PM ·

Some good, thought-provoking, honest, and constructive comments here. You are perceptive folks and I have really enjoyed reading this thread.

One article I read recently reinforces the value of a simple, sincere thank-you note. Somebody took the e-mail list and did this, and had a great response. On the same website (I believe that was somebody had made the controversial suggestion that, if ticket sales come nowhere close to covering the expenses of an orchestra and most of that comes from donations, what was the point of having unrealistically expensive tickets? Now, my experience working in a box office tells me that if you make something free too often -- we had a whole series of free lectures -- you may initially get more people in the door, but people don't care if they blow it off and we had a whole lot of unclaimed will calls. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think this author made sense. Part of the difference, I think, is that most people go or have the opportunity to go see that sole-surviving rock dinosaur once or twice at most, am I wrong there?

I have seen some outstanding lectures on a website called TED (Technology-Entertainment-Design). One was by the conductor Benjamin Zander, whose position is that people do love classical music, they just don't know it. If you haven't seen his very effective speech, you really should, it is located here:

There was another by a fellow who had been researching, of all things, spaghetti sauce. His point was that people don't always really know what they want. One example of his: if you ask people what they want in a coffee, they will give you words like rich, dark, robust. What the numbers tell us is that Americans actually like (his words) weak, milky coffee!

I don't care for pandering, but neither can I brook the attitude of some that if something is popular and well-liked it must be trash. I am not embarrassed to say that Fledermaus Overture puts a goofy grin on my face (and let's not forget, classical has its share of duds). Thomas Hampson has gotten me utterly hooked on the American 30's. I've also gotten up close to pop music that I never would have through some unbelievably difficult arranging projects for weddings and seen the intricacies of stuff I would never have appreciated.

I am of two minds on the noise/distraction issue. I don't care for distracting behavior and outright rudeness should certainly be discouraged, but mostly I feel that we shouldn't make people feel like criminals for having the audacity to be human in public. In other arenas, I am finding a really disturbing trend of intolerance for anything less than perfection that is a little too often thinly-disguised, Lord of the Flies-style bloodlust...but I digress...

This year I also caught myself in a bit of my own hypocrisy, and won't judge if anyone wants to admit they recognize themselves too. Ironically, it's often the musicians who say they don't have the time or the money to invest in their own profession by getting out and seeing concerts. I'm sure in some cases that's true, but all of them? I'm skeptical. The reason, of course, is that I found through logging my every expenditure how much I was spending on dining out compared to seeing symphony concerts and was truly ashamed. I am now trying to catch up on putting my money where my mouth is, instead of expecting the elusive "they" and "them" to do it for me. If we can't be motivated to step it up in whatever big or small way possible, there is no hope; if we can, then perhaps we can seek "everybody else" from a position of less desperation. People can smell desperation and, if they're not sadomasochists, it freaks them out.

Another unexpected source of inspiration for me this year was Christianity by way of Ghandi. Apparently it was known that Ghandi read the Bible daily, which prompted a journalist to ask him why he never converted. Ghandi replied, "If I had ever met a Christian, I would have become one." The idea for Christians is that if we're doing a good job, people should be able to indentify us by our extraordinary way of living; when something has transformed you inside, it should be obvious outside. Instead, a lot of us let the mundane stuff get in our way. I figure it is fair to say that many people on this forum got their start becoming music-lovers because they met a music-lover who influenced them greatly. Most people do not have such an encounter.

On a related note, I definitely agree with the several people who posted about visibility, charity, and local stardom. I think the latter is something we can strive to achieve through the former two. Be seen all over the place, in functions that have to do with music and ones that don't, and especially in ones that really have great social merit like charity events. Incidentally I just read that a bassist friend has partnered with a yoga studio, in one of the more unusual but cool ideas I've seen.

Well, sorry that turned out to be kind of a year-in-review! There just have been so many revelations since I started to think of myself primarily as a musician of the world and not of the conservatory. :) Thanks and happy holidays, everybody!

December 23, 2010 at 08:41 PM ·

Yikes, anybody know how to fix text size?

One other thought:

We have been losing money every season.   I am not a big social person and don't really know lots of people, yet many of those I do know claim to either like or love classical music - but those individuals rarely attend our concerts. 

What I find interesting is the self-definition: "I am not a big social person."  Not that you have a family or a job and don't have time to make contacts (which may very well be true, although often these are fronts for negative, restrictive self-definitions).  I have trouble being outgoing so I can perhaps relate.  Respectfully, Bruce, maybe it's time we began to define ourselves differently?  Call it a New Year's resolution, even.  Well, I know ambitious projects are best approached in steps, so let's consider the people you already know.  Can you persistently remove their objections until it's so easy, they can't say no?  For instance: Who'll watch the kids?  I'll arrange a sitter.  Hate traffic?  I'll drive.  Not payday yet?  I'll buy this time.  Then you can expect them to gradually pick up some of the slack as it becomes clear that the excuses have solutions. 

Don't overburden yourself, of course -- I think it goes without saying that everybody can't do everything singlehandedly.

December 23, 2010 at 09:37 PM ·

An obvious sort of elephant-in-the-living-room question:

Are there ANY forms of music that get majority of their revenue from live performance?  Any at all?  Where that revenue is sufficient on its own to maintain a professional career from cradle to grave?  I'm thinking not, and if that is indeed the case, the current classical music industry may be in an untenable position inherently.  Seriously, I can think of no forms of music where people can make upper-middle-class salaries from live musical performance.  None.  (Much less support not only the musicians but the vast coterie of desk jobs that exist behind it.)

It may be that, while "classical music" is perfectly healthy and will remain so as long as the canon keeps expanding and people keep learning and playing it, the 20th century Edwardian-to-third-millenium industry that provided it was an historical burp.  I'm not saying Classical Music Is Dying Out, nor am I saying that live performance is dying out.  I'm saying that it was never sustainable to pay 100+ people very comfortable salaries that can support them exclusively for being live musicians.  We can make all the arguments we want about how classical musicians are the keepers of the entire soul of western civilization and the music they play is elevated, special, and should therefore be exempt from these forces, but when the audience doesn't agree, we're talking down a well.

Basically, we need to be aware of the problem that we're looking to solve.  Do we want concerts to make money?  Or do we want the cool cachet that comes from being listened to by young, with-it types with blue hair?  If the latter, then we can do that easily enough, but even the music they listen to doesn't make the lion's share of its money off of live performances.  (Most rock bands call themselves travelling t-shirt concessions when no one's listening.)

If what we want is the former, then we have to stop thinking in terms of being cool, hip, and edgy (and other words that reassure us that we're not mostly middle-aged) and start thinking in terms of emulating another form of music that provides for professional salaries from live performance.

And I'm not sure there is one.

December 23, 2010 at 11:07 PM ·

Good article about the surprising math of live and recorded musical performance:

Seriously -- most of the money made by popular music is from album sales ... only it doesn't go to the musicians.  Classical music has to make sure it models itself on forms of music where the actual musicians make the bulk of their money from live performance -- and it's got to be more than just guesswork.  They have to stop hiring marketing firms and old-money board members to make these models and start hiring accountants to do it.  Tone-deaf accountants.

Otherwise, they have to keep up the current subsidized model and just wait until the economy gets better and their endowments go back up.

There are other ways of making money, though ... but they are fairly unique and require more than just trying to appeal to "kids today."

December 23, 2010 at 11:26 PM ·

I suppose it depends on the venue. Where I am, the place people go for classical music, etc., is the Peace Center in Greenville. I went to see Joshue Bell there for a little over $200 for my family of three. The auditorium was packed. I like Bell, but more importantly, I wanted my son to have to experience of a live performance of classical music. At the time, we could well afford the price, but times have changed and the money is no longer there. The Peace Center may be struggling, I don't know, but I do know that in their flyer this year, $5/show tickets were prominently displayed. I don't know how they do it, But maybe something like this will draw more people who will continue to look to the Center for entertainment. For some folks, it may well come down to the money, but many others who have never considered going to the Center are probably going now for the first time.

December 23, 2010 at 11:37 PM ·

Wow, I'm really impressed with the depth and breadth of this thread! I love it!

December 24, 2010 at 02:27 AM ·

"Classical music is in a unique situation where it has a live ethic in a world of recorded music."

Bruce, and Janis,

My point in bringing up Jake, and B.B. is to point out that the "live ethic" is the ONLY reason anyone *ever* goes to *any* concert, regardless of the "genre." If you are stuck thinking about genre, you will never get anywhere. IF you are stuck thinking that classical music is somehow different from other genres in this regard, you will continue to fail.

Jake is young, and his live concerts are transformative.

B.B. King is old, and his concerts are transcendent--or so I hear. That's why I want to hear him. That's why he sells so many tickets.

If you don't know who Jake is, I can excuse you--he is new on the scene. Look him up.

I cannot forgive you for not knowing who B. B. is. That's like not knowing what a guitar is. Or what what a piano is. Or what the blues is. Or who Heifetz was. He is that fundamental.

December 24, 2010 at 03:07 AM ·

Bill, my point is that the live ethic is what classical music is all about -- the vast majority of pop and rock live events are calibrated by the radio-play version of the album or song, and are as much social event as musical event.  Most classical and operatic concerts are filled with people who are having private individual experiences, while pop and rock concerts are filled with people who are there with friends, sharing the experience.

Not only that, but an awful lot of pop and rock is built around CDs that feature created performances that are literally unable to be realized in a live setting.  Classical music is almost the only place where, if there is a repeat in the music, you don't cut and paste it on the CD, but are expected to play it perfectly ... twice.

I do not badmouth pop or rock with this statement.   My own musical vernacular is as much ELO, Styx, VH, and Journey as it is Beethoven or Haendel.  But all of these bands have created radio-play versions of each and every song that are considered the calibration versions.  CDs of collections of their works include exactly the same version of each song, every single time, to the point where even a die-hard fan like myself is sick and tired of buying the same song in a different packaging.  And every live performance is judged by these versions.

In a classical setting, we may argue over which performer's version of a given piece is the best, but there is ONE accepted version of "Twilight" and ONE accepted guitar cadenza for "Who's Crying Now."  And in each case, the songs were never, ever performed live as we hear them.  In a lot of cases, the musicians on a given pop or rock recording might never have been in the same time zone as one another.

Again, I love this music more than I love a lot of classical, so it's not a matter of lack of respect.  It's just a fact: pop/rock has a different aesthetic than classical music, one aimed toward performances that have never been and in some cases cannot be performed live.  Classical is about doing it then and there, before your eyes, in a way that popular music just isn't.  When David Bowie performs live, it's about working as hard as he can to mimic a performance that was created over several months in a studio.  When a classical musician or group records, it's about trying to make a live performance permanent (mostly, obviously this is an ideal).

To illustrate this, I have several CDs by Andreas Scholl, the countertenor.  I think I have about four different versions of him singing "Ombra mai fu"  Each is different.  I have several CDs of Steve Perry as well (my viola is called Stevie for a reason), but each carries exactly the same version of "Strung Out," right down to the molecule.  For the same level of variation as I'd find in Scholl's work, I have recourse to concert boots, and most artists would rather such things didn't even exist.

December 24, 2010 at 06:11 PM ·


You are factually incorrect. To paint "popular music" in relation to "the live music has to match the recorded version" is painting wit ha broad brush that bears no connection to reality at all. Many famous "pupular" acts do things totally differently on stage. Others don't. Your broad brush is a dangeroously wrong.

What really cracks me up is that I didn't even rais the "pop" question. Bruch just assumed I was comparing to popular music. Ukulele and the Blues is hardly popular music. Marginal music maybe, but not pop.

The point is that to assume that fans of classical music are motivated to spend lots of money on yet another poor attempt at Beethoven's Eroica, without something really great going on, is the problem.  Lots of classical fans have extensive CD collections, No difference there to the "pop" fan.

All live music depends on an audiience appreciating the live music--not just the live "element" but the music . The real surprises are the ones that manage tos ell tickets even though they suck. Example: Ambler Symphony. Some lower quality symphonies really need to pay the audience rather than the other way around.

December 24, 2010 at 07:02 PM ·

Bill please, your brush is just as individually biased as mine.  We're all talking about what we're talking about and using the same word.  You are talking about your  version of whatever "pop" means, and so am I.  Period.

I still maintain that studio-created performances are not considered part of the classical ethic, and the VAST majority of what anyone calls "pop" does focus more heavily on that.  You're just irked that I'm talking about ELO and David Bowie -- my favorite kind of pop music -- instead of your favorite kind of pop music.  My brush is no more "dangerously wrong" than anyone's, it's just not your brush.

And whether BB King or Styx is the center of the pop universe isn't the point anyway, since what's being talked about is REVENUE GENERATION for classical music.  Classical music needs to find out what can be done to increase money, and I maintain that it needs to be very careful regarding what type of music it models its attempts off of.   Borrowing a solution from a genre of music that the classical cognoscenti doesn't actually understand, and that may contain assumptions that don't apply for its type, is the real danger.

December 24, 2010 at 07:53 PM ·

Well, they know that universe well, and a lot of them have a social circle that involves people with grandpapa's railroad money ... it's the everpresent marketing consultant's tug-of-war.  Use the resources but don't let them take over on a high strategic level since they need the help in the first place, or else they wouldn't have asked for it.

And the whole thing about what is the definition of pop music is why those accountants have to be tone deaf.  These sorts of discussions invariably turn into "if the symphony would only play MY favorite kind of music, that would solve all their problems!"  The issue is money, less so the specific kind of music being played, and whether Luther Allison would win a cage match against Tommy Shaw.  (Yes, revenue and genre are connected, but less so than a lot of people think.  I've been in marketing since 1991, trust me on this -- the message of the marketing and the message of the product are not the same thing.)

I would commit crimes that would get me on the 11 o'clock  news to hear Neal Schon play the Brahms symphonies with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but that ain't gonna solve their problems.  My favorite type of pop music is the wrong stuff to model classical music off of, as beautifully as I think they would merge artistically.  Tone deaf accountants, I'm telling you.

December 24, 2010 at 08:17 PM ·

This is coming back to my question:
"That said, is the real goal getting more butts in seats, or is it simply more revenue from those butts?"
This is all about money. Not about the quality of music; the music is the reason we do it, but this thread is how to do that without being a non-profit.
The traditional funding comes from grants, donations, and paying for seats. Grants are not going to increase anytime soon, and donations from traditional methods are currently under duress; trying to guess about them is a crap shoot.

That leaves two 'opportunities'.

  •  Get more revenue from butts in seats. More butts, or more per butt.
  • Get new sources for donations.

I do not think this will happen until you get more butts in seats, AND get them to feel involved and included in the entire process. They will NOT donate simply because they attend a performance; they will donate because they attend a brunch with the musicians, they have a specific face and see the dreams and goals these musicians have. I'm not talking about the fortune 500 kind of donor; I'm talking about the soccer mom who also has dreams of her daughter playing a violin, I'm talking about an engineer that has grandkids that spend too much time on video games, and he wants to expose them to the freshness of what real life has to offer. I (I mean he) worry that the world will be less if this is allowed to fade away.

If you find a way to energize these resources, it will be like developing a new revenue life.

December 25, 2010 at 09:55 PM ·

Rambling response here . . . I recently worked out a fantasy scenario in which I presented a concert in a rented venue (a church). I knew the number of seats in the church, and I determined a ticket cost that would be considered in the middle-high range for my area. I postulated that if we were really lucky, we might get 3/4 of a house. I factored in all kinds of plausible expenses for insurance, non-performing staff, office space, management, advertising, publicity, printed programs, and so forth. My fantasy goal was that the concert had to pay for itself or at least break even. Being a charitable sort, I donated my services, which were considerable. I won't bore you with the actual dollar allocations in detail, but by the time all was said and done, my "orchestra" numbered ten players who were paid just Union minimums for this area.

I think this says that our modern orchestras are bloated in size far beyond anything their original creators could have imagined. And I think that in some ways orchestras exemplify the characteristic we have seen in everything from our personal conduct to the conduct of the nation itself, and that is that we are living beyond our means and have been doing so for decades.

Chickens come home to roost, and it means that to survive orchestras will have to get smaller and reduce their expenses dramatically, which sends a cold chill through the classical world. Of course, real orchestras charge much more for their tickets than I charged for my fantasy concert, but they have six or seven times the expenses I did, so their disparity between real costs and incomes is probably worse than my imagined ones. The breakdown I hear most often is that out of every dollar spent to put on a concert, only 40 cents comes from ticket sales. I think that this is now clearly an untenable business model.

In recent years I have come to enjoy even more the joys of chamber music and smaller ensembles in smaller venues. I appreciate the intimate scale and being nearer to the performers, and so it does not seem horrible to me if this portends the future of classical music. I truly doubt that large symphony orchestras will ever go away, but I can easily foresee a time when there might be much fewer of them. It's a process that I see occurring now.

December 26, 2010 at 03:00 AM ·

If you treat a symphony orchestra as no more than a live concert to hear your "favorite classical top 40" then you can kiss your symphony goodbye.

Symphonies will continue to not only survive, but thrive, when they are led by music directors with creative ideas who create much more than merely a commodity.

January 10, 2011 at 05:20 PM ·

I really like the idea of the Wordless Music organization to pair rock musicians with classical ones. I'd love to be a part of that and get people fired-up about classical music.

Are most concert halls charging $9 for upper-tier partial view seats? I got that for an upcoming show at Carnegie Hall, and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen concert tickets that cheap in a long time. I hope that's not just a by-product of low sales, but maybe Carnegie's on to something.


January 10, 2011 at 05:30 PM ·

 I paid $8 for a partial-view seat to see the Miro Quartet at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in July 2010. That may have been a student rate - I can't remember - but still. An adult ticket would only be a few more dollars than that.

January 10, 2011 at 06:00 PM ·

Not put the best classical music concerts on weeknights!  I'd love to take my kids, but weeknights are out of the question with all of their homework. I think some concert halls may put such concerts on weeknights to keep the kids out.  So then they have no exposure, and don't ever get to the concerts as adults.

January 10, 2011 at 07:57 PM ·

At least where I live, the concerts are on a weeknight because the old-timers would all go to the Lawn Club before the concert on that day....


January 10, 2011 at 11:31 PM ·

The past several years my husband and I have attended 3 or 4 of our local professional symphony's classical concert series per year. We would have subscribed but that was financially far out of our reach. This year we won't be seeing any, unfortunately (my husband was out of work for 5 months). As far as 'our entertainment budget' goes...we haven't had cable tv for a couple of years and I think it's been at least 7-8 years since we saw a movie in a theater.

What we do now is attend (free) concerts and recitals at our nearby university.

As far as suggestions goes...I realize that arts orgs are desperate for money but I can't help but wonder if the desperate pleas for help prior to the concerts (as there were the last couple of concerts we attended last year, for which we'd already paid when my husband lost his job) aren't counterproductive?

For several reasons...first of all, here we were at a concert we'd spent what for us was a significant amount of $ per ticket to attend, and we were treated to what amounted to a PBS pledge break before the concert started.

The message I got? If you can't afford to donate $$$ to the orchestra, you don't really 'belong' at concerts and you're not really the type of supporter we are looking for. It's nice you can sit in your cheapie seat for a night out a couple of times a year but you're not doing us any good, really. Thanks anyway.

Plus, honestly, I've worked for and with people who have large enough incomes to donate fairly big checks...and let me tell you that desperation is off-putting to those who can afford to donate. Unless you can foot the bill for the whole year, what people who can donate $$,$$$ - $$$,$$$ hear is 'we're seriously in danger of going under so donating to us might be pointless.'

Bottom line...'guilting' people drives more away than it gets to donate.

January 10, 2011 at 11:46 PM ·

I just had a thought; seeing the notes about the kids and schedules.

The things I do pay a yearly fee to ARE for the kids. I have a zoo membership, Aquarium membership, Air Museum membership, and a membership to the Oregon Garden.

All of these have activities the kids enjoy.

How about having some Kids Koncerts, where the kids get to play with drums, xylophones, horns, and other fun things? How about giving kids some activities associated with the music, instead of only giving them the opportunity to sit and watch?

I guarantee that if you start getting the kids excited, they will bring their parents into the concerts.

January 11, 2011 at 01:42 AM ·

I agree, Roland.  One of the local symphonies has a free outdoor concert that wraps up the season with patriotic songs and the 1812 overture complete with cannons from a Civil War recreationist group.  The kids love the cannons!

And shortened Saturday afternoon family oriented concerts aimed at those of all ages with a short attention span might generate some interest too.  Along with shortening the prices as well!

January 11, 2011 at 10:49 PM ·

How about having some Kids Koncerts, where the kids get to play with drums, xylophones, horns, and other fun things? How about giving kids some activities associated with the music, instead of only giving them the opportunity to sit and watch?

Apparently the Seattle Symphony holds kids' events including what they call an "instrument petting zoo".

January 12, 2011 at 12:38 AM ·

Hey Charlie:

They do have another musical "petting zoo" in Seattle.. It's called the Seattle Music Experience.  Or is that too lowbrow for the string set?  Naw, Nancy Wilson plays mandolin and guitar.  They both have strings last time I looked.

Seriously, the SME could do to add a bit of fun exposure to that fine "other" branch of the lute.. the violin.  It's been years since I've seen it but no electronic violins were there at the time.

The local symphony mentioned in my earlier post doesn't have a "petting zoo" but at the outdoor concert (with the campus church nearby as a backup in case of rain) children are encouraged to come up and sit alongside the musician of their choice for a special song.  Close enough for petting imho!

January 12, 2011 at 02:09 AM ·

My suggestions are based on things that professional and student orchestras in my area are doiing.

Have a free, open air concert once a year. The state orchestra where I am does it by the riverside every year. They even bring in canons for tchaikovsky 1812!!! You could have a competition to win tickets; this way, you get info like email addresses, which you can use to promote material. This orchestra also do concerts aimed at kids, playing repetoire from films such as harry potter.

The orchestra that I play for does kids concerts each year; we do 6 in a weekiend. Each lasts for about an hour and the kids sway their hands, clap and dance. We show them how to conduct ("move the stick down, then up" :D) we invite a few kids and parents to conduct and then finish with something nice and loud (we did berlioz last year) at the end, everyone comes onstage and chats.

Hope you figure out something soon,



January 12, 2011 at 04:09 AM ·

How about having an 'open rehersal' once in a while? One in which kids are allowed to sit in the audience and listen in to the process.
Possibly add a break where the musicians can have the opportunity to chat one-on-one with the kids, and try and explain what they feel about the music.

That would give the kids an 'under the hood' look at the music and the process. Once they are hooked, they will stay.

January 12, 2011 at 06:26 AM ·

I agree with Bill and Sean on this.  If venues keep programming mostly old, worn out works presented by the same handful of touring soloists the seats will continue to empty.  Polling your existing audience about what they wish to hear obviously can't tell you what the people who aren't coming want to hear.  Programming "challenging" atonal new music that is difficult to listen to will just drive more people away.  Save that stuff for composition students' doctoral theses.

It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has recently attended a symphony concert that the audiences aren't thinner simply because subscribers aren't interested any more, but because they are dead.  Sorry, it's the truth. 

And, even among the audience demographic that is passing away, a high percentage of people are there not because they value a transcendent musical experience, but because in the society in which they came of age season tickets to the symphony were a status symbol and it was, and still is to many, important to be seen at the symphony or opera.  This is the reason that survey results show the majority of patrons want to see well known works performed by well known orchestras: they recognize the name.

There are scads of young people who yearn to be thrilled by excellent music but have no interest in hearing another performance of Beethoven or Stravinsky.  While you may have a distaste for straying outside the Canon, you do so at your own peril.  Young people are much more likely to have seen a violinist playing newly composed music in a small music venue like a rock club than they are to have seen another  performance of the Tchaikowski concerto at a concert hall. 

Janis is right in the sense that megabands like Journey, as well as the stadium filling pop acts of today are uninteresting to most fans of excellent live music and are as inappropriate in a venue for serious music as is Andre Rieu.  She's absolutely wrong in characterizing all other non-classical music as regurgitated studio magic.  Even BB King, to use the same example, NEVER plays the same guitar part twice. 

There is an entire culture of young music fans who devote hours scouring the web for new and interesting serious music.  n the last decade I've met more and more serious, excellent, classically trained musicians who have no interest in joining an Orchestra, instead playing with unconventional, rock inspired ensembles. I mean, these days, sound guys in bars actually know how to mic and amplify a violin played in the classical manner for crying out loud.  This is the fan base that the "music without words series" appeals to and, as much as some may pooh-pooh it, it is the future of serious music in this country.


January 12, 2011 at 06:40 PM ·

@ Randy -

"If venues keep programming mostly old, worn out works presented by the same handful of touring soloists"

How then to explain the classical music organizations that are doing relatively well? (The ones who are seeing increasing audiences? Who are indulging in adventurous programming? Who are making recordings? Who are attracting exciting new talent? Although perhaps uncommon, they are out there.) Are they succeeding in spite of the "mostly old, worn out works" they present? I think this kind of generalizing is dangerous. Music from all eras, whether from the 1300s or the 1500s or the 1700s or the 1900s or the present day, has the capability to touch a modern audience. I am certain of this. We cannot rule out the worthiness of music because of the period it was composed in.

"Save that stuff for composition students' doctoral theses."

No, don't. I hate labeling. A lot of atonal music actually has the capability to be incredibly moving, and there's no reason why we have to banish an entire sub-genre of classical music. I'm not saying that every concert should be full of modern music, but it should definitely be a part of our vocabulary as musicians and listeners. I know for a fact that if people want to understand this music, and be moved by it, it's possible to be. People may decide that any potential payoff isn't worth the work, and that's a valid viewpoint, but it is definitely possible to find it very interesting, and indeed, moving. This summer I went to a recital of Midori's in Winona, Minnesota, and alongside Brahms and Beethoven she programmed Davidovsky. It was really interesting to hear. I'm so glad that she programmed it, and so was the rest of the audience. She was warmly applauded. And I mean, come on. We're from Minnesota and Wisconsin. We're supposedly the poster-children for hickness and naivitee: the rural flyover Midwest. If a work like Davidovsky's can be appreciated here... It has to be possible elsewhere. I've mentioned Maud Powell a lot on this board lately, but I find myself thinking of her again in this discussion... When she premiered the Sibelius violin concerto in America, the New York Times was less than enthusiastic about the piece. Now it's part of the canon of "mostly old, worn out works." What if she had listened to the voices that said, don't program that unpleasantly dissonant music; nobody will like it; nobody will come to the concert; we'll lose our audience? And there were people like that out there. Now the Sibelius has touched countless listeners' lives. We need to take a tip from Maud Powell and keep open ears, both for ourselves and for future generations.

"It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has recently attended a symphony concert that the audiences aren't thinner simply because subscribers aren't interested any more, but because they are dead."

Actually, there has been at least one study suggesting that although audiences are getting older, since our life-spans are lengthening, they are tending to come to classical music at roughly the same time of their life as the generation before them. I wish I could find the study now but unfortunately I can't. Also keep in mind that we have way more professional and semi-professional orchestras now than we did thirty years ago, and the professional orchestras have moved to full-time positions when they used to be part-time ones. If we've all died out, how is this possible? Zombie patrons? As that old quote goes, "The most enduring tradition of classical music is its imminent death."

"This is the fan base that the "music without words series" appeals to and, as much as some may pooh-pooh it, it is the future of serious music in this country."

I am so hesitant about your insinuation that "serious music" will not include more traditional elements (Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky) in the future. I have total confidence that twenty-five years from now, we're still going to have orchestras playing Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and finding new and interesting and relevant things to say through them. I am confident there will be an audience. And at the same time, I also am confident that unconventional, rock inspired ensembles - or their future equivalents - will be a part of the scene. Hopefully we'll all talk to each other and learn from another. (Look at someone like Rachel Barton Pine, who is totally at home in both kinds of worlds. I think we're going to be seeing more people like her in the future.) I love the philosophy that critic Alex Ross espouses, that all music is on a continuum, and that it's totally possible to get from punk rock to classical music, and, therefore, from classical music to punk rock. What an exciting journey to be able to go on! I think we're starting to see that all genres are related and interconnected, and that one is not necessarily more "serious" or "better" than another. But in the process of his exploration neither "side", for lack of a better word, should diss other people's preferred genres. That goes for classical well as for non-classical ones.

Main point being: there is room for all sorts of genres, and one does not preclude another.

January 12, 2011 at 07:09 PM ·

Good back-and-forth from Randy and Liz. Both valid, I think. The crux of the matter lies in knowing when to choose which approach. I'm one of those people who generally loathes modern music, especially the type that is relentlessly dissonant or relies on "new" sounds like hitting the violin with your hands and your bow, or pouring a bucket of hot nuts and bolts into a piano and then telling the pianist to pluck the strings. When I hear the violin, the most expressive of instruments, treated like a snare drum, frankly, you don't want to be around me since I tend to become homicidal.

Yet this summer I programmed the polytonal Milhaud Chamber Symphony No. 4 for the New Violin Family Orchestra (vids on YouTube For those unfamiliar with the piece, it was written in ten parts for a precursor new family of violins, which is why I included it. Since the group is essentially a teaching ensemble, I asked the conductor to explain polytonality to the audience and to use the orchestra of 20 string players to demonstrate excerpts. This went over amazingly well. By giving the audience something recognizable to grab on to, we had them listening closely to the music instead of begging God to let it end soon. Even I came to like the middle movement, which I began to think of as the chorale from hell.

I also believe that classical music must stand on its own feet and not be trendy or "now." I came to this conclusion after hearing an (over) amplified string quartet play rock music to an audience of teenage string players. I hated it, but I expected the audience to really like it. I was surprised afterward to observe as an unimpressed audience left the hall. One girl said to her friends that if the quartet wanted to be a rock and roll band, why didn't they just play guitars? You see? There's hope!

Classical music has plenty of strengths, but I think classical musicians are not always realistic about how to utilize them. When a grade-school music teacher plays Bach or Beethoven to a fourth grade general music class for the first time, why do we expect the kids to "get it" on first hearing, especially when it took us years to really appreciate that music ourselves? Are we really failures if not every last man, woman, and child wants to attend a concert of Brahms? Any businessman will tell you about market segments and strata and the various ways of reaching them. You just want a piece of the pie, not the entire pizza.

January 12, 2011 at 07:33 PM ·


Because for a classical concert, you leave the kids at home. For a folk concert, you bring the kids and let them dance.

January 12, 2011 at 07:51 PM ·


"How do we get people to attend live concerts?"

tell them ahead of time there will be a raffle for a ipod or whatever is the latest.  when in rome lower the standard:)

January 12, 2011 at 07:54 PM ·

Emily, many of your points are well taking and I admit to engaging in some hyberbole in my post. Instead of "old and worn out," perhaps I should say "routine."  You know what  they say that familiarity breeds. . .

I'm a midwestern boy myself who loves to play and listen to old music, but there definitely aren't enough people like me to fill the empty 3/4 of the house on a regular basis.

I suppose my response was a reaction to the dominant attitude in this thread which I read as something like: We should have better marketing, more effective fundraising, maybe different performance times, and, if we absolutely HAVE to, throw the plebes a few bones in the form of free concerts or hackneyed "Filthy Five Brass Band" type of acts.

Some of these ARE good ideas, at least in the short run, but none of these solutions seem to answer the real question, which I see as "How do we get more people who truly love serious music to get their butts in the seats of large music venues?"

I don't know if it's possible or even valuable to "find new and interesting and relevant things to say through" Beethoven.  However, I think orchestras should keep programming the classics but, I submit, to a much lesser degree.  I understand that this is a catch-22 and I don't know what to do about the fact that doing this can risk losing the important Society type of patrons who view the symphony as a social vehicle. 

Yes, there are beautiful new pieces being composed today.  However, many music directors tend to program the most pedantic of these under the impression that "challenging" equals good. 

I think we need to be realistic, and keep in mind, what these venues are really offering--- namely:  Exclusivity, taste, rigor and passion, what I'm calling "serious music."  I think that many classical patrons would be surprised to discover that these qualities are exactly what patrons of "indie" music (for lack of a better label) also value. 

It is simply pandering to try to expand patronage by programming bad, uninteresting popular music and I think it's a terrible idea.  But this is what many venues do.  Instead, I suggest that music organizations can take a page from the Wordless Music series and work in a spirit of true collaboration with performers and composers of  newer forms of music, whether or not they have the correct classical pedigree, and thereby draw these artists' dedicated fan base into a true and lasting relationship with an organization.  This kind of collaboration could take years to truly flower and we may surprised by what sort of art emerges.

Instead, I read in this thread an argument that reminds me of General Motors and it's glorious history.  But it doesn't matter that people who own Cadillacs love them or that GM has some great marketing campaigns for Cadillacs or even that a Cadillac is an excellent car.  GM still went bankrupt and it wasn't because people stopped driving.




January 12, 2011 at 08:14 PM ·

@ Randy -

Thanks for the clarification. This is thought-provoking stuff. I may return to the thread and answer you at length when I have time. (If it isn't filled up by then. Which it probably will be, hehe.)

I will say though - you said, "I don't know if it's possible or even valuable to "find new and interesting and relevant things to say through" Beethoven.

It is. I totally know it is. I'm a patron of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, after all, where just about every program has a piece by Beethoven on it. The intellectual and emotional insights I've experienced there over the past two years have been astonishing. Indeed, many years ago, the first big-city concert I ever went to was a program of just Beethoven that included the violin concerto. The beauty and majesty of that experience changed my life forever. Actually, if I had to choose the single most important, most formative, night of my life, it would be that night, that concert, and that repertoire. If Beethoven changed my life - and I'm nobody special, not an elite, not rich (ha, indeed; the opposite), relatively uneducated (high school degree; nothing more) - then why couldn't it change others' lives, too? The classic rep is worth keeping, worth celebrating, worth reviving. I know it is, because I've lived that experience, and I know other people who have lived it, too. And I'm not saying that kind of experience is limited to just classical music; the same kinds of epiphanies can be found in jazz and rock and all sorts of genres. But even so, the old stuff is still relevant. Trust me on this one. ;)

@ Don -

What, in your opinion, is the institution of classical music? The halls? The subscription seasons? The orchestras? The brochures? Something else? What specifically about each part is dead?

I thought of this quote from Alex Ross's book Listen to This:

When people hear "classical," they think "dead." The music is described in terms of its distance from the present, its difference from the mass. No wonder that stories of its imminent demise are commonplace. Newspapers recite a familiar litany of problems: record companies are curtailing their classical divisions; orchestras are facing deficits; the music is barely taught in public schools, almost invisible in the media, ignored or mocked by Hollywood. Yet the same story was told forty, sixty, eighty years ago. Stereo Review wrote in 1969, "Fewer classical records are being sold because people are dying... Today's dying classical market is what it is because fifteen years ago no one attempted to instill a love for classical music in the then impressionable children who have today become the market." The conductor Alfred Wallenstein wrote in 1950, "The economic crisis confronting the American symphony orchestra is becoming increasingly acute." The German critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt wrote in 1926, "Concerts are poorly attended and budget deficits grow from year to year." Laments over the decline or death of the art appear as far back as the fourteenth century, when the sensuous melodies of Ars Nova were thought to signal the end of civilization. The pianist Charles Rosen has sagely observed, "The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition."

The whole essay is totally worth reading in full. It's simply gorgeous.

Apologies to the original poster, as we're veering into the question of "classical music's relevancy" rather than "how to get people into a hall." But perhaps the two questions are inextricably linked.

January 12, 2011 at 08:25 PM ·

Hey Liz, I misunderstood your statement, of course, as a listener, my understanding of the classics is constantly undergoing change and the experience can be transcendental in a new way every time.

Don, I gotcha man. . . .

January 12, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·

I'd probably go more if I didn't have to dress up...I don't like dressing up.  Will see Gluzman on Saturday anyways :-) 2nd row baby

January 12, 2011 at 09:21 PM ·

So much of it has to do with marketing and getting rid of the perception that classical music is for effete snobs.  A few moths ago, one of my co-workers, who wouldn't ever think to go to a symphony concert, was telling me how much he loved the soundtrack to a movie he had seen, Requiem for a Dream.  Has the CD in his truck, listens to it all the time.  Yes, that would be the soundtrack recorded by the Kronos Quartet.  In conjunction with what, by all accounts, is a very powerful movie, he "gets" the soundtrack.  Next time Kronos comes to town, maybe this guy will buy a couple of tickets and take his wife.  Maybe they will hear other things on the program they like, too.

Several people who have responded to this thread have talked about hating to get dressed up to go to the symphony- it's just too much trouble.  Probably also kind of intimidating for the crowd who puts on stockings or a tie only for weddings and funerals, and then only if they're an usher or pallbearer.  This, by the way, is a whole lot of people.

This is what I personally find so frustrating about this whole subject.  People don't hate the music.  Once they give it a chance, many find they love it!  It's just the trappings, the ticket prices, the feeling that common folks aren't in on the big secret, that discourages many from going.

January 13, 2011 at 06:40 PM ·

"Probably also kind of intimidating for the crowd who puts on stockings or a tie only for weddings and funerals, and then only if they're an usher or pallbearer."

IME, coming from that background myself, it's considered quite nice to have an excuse to dress up.  When you live your life in a polyester uniform with steel toe boots or a hairnet, it can be a nice thing to actually wear your best, whatever your best may be.

January 16, 2011 at 10:07 AM ·

I'm glad I just went to see Vadim Gluzman, was awesome, 2nd row center from now on!  J

January 18, 2011 at 11:57 AM ·

Last few times I went, I was casual with sneakers, so, why do people feel they have to dress up? Is there a dress code in certain halls? Do they eject you from the concert hall if you don't have a tuxedo or a 2 or 3 piece suit with a necktie on? Does the music sound more authentic and pleasing to certain people if they're dressed accordingly?

January 18, 2011 at 02:33 PM ·

Chris -- and everybody else: If you haven't seen it already, be sure to read Terez Mertes's 5-6-2006 blog titled Joshua and the Symphony Snobs.

I couldn't help thinking of a song that begins with these lines -- I'm working from memory; I think I have this right:

Blame it all on my roots
I showed up in boots
And ruined your black tie affair

Could somebody give us the name of the song?  I remember Garth Brooks made a big hit with it.

January 18, 2011 at 04:00 PM ·

Don, thanks.  As Garth says here, "We've had a lot of fun with that song, but it's nothing to base your values on."

January 18, 2011 at 07:01 PM ·

Hey, where I live, boots are PART of black tie.  White tie, you have to go with the shoes, but a tux and boots, you're good to go!

The attitude Terez talks about, though, is a turn-off for a lot of people.  Folks on this site, who know and are comfortable with classical music, aren't put off by it, especially when the snobs are also musical illiterates.

The almighty dollar also comes into it.  An 800 seat theater here shows the hi-def broadcasts from the Met, and tickets, which are $22, are impossible to get, in a town of 70,000.  I just saw that another theater is bringing in ballet, etc., from Europe for a similar ticket price.  A few years ago the orchestra I play in did Beethoven's 9th at the local opera house, admission by donation.  It was outdoors, on a cold, windy, somewhat nasty day.  We filled 2000 of about 2100 seats, and had to delay the start by about half an hour to give everyone time to park and find a seat.  According to our ushers, this was a very green audience, many of whom hadn't ever been to a classical concert.  The price was right, the venue itself was a draw, the piece is popular.  Especially since it was chilly, blankets and boots were the dress code.

It's not that people don't want to go; there are just too many real (time, money) and imagined obstacles.

January 18, 2011 at 07:38 PM ·

January 18, 2011 at 11:50 PM ·

Jim, thanks for posting the blog! What a story she had! Thank God I haven't seen these characters at my concerts!

January 19, 2011 at 07:16 PM ·

"Does the music sound more authentic and pleasing to certain people if they're dressed accordingly?"

It can help make it an extra-fun evening for people for whom dressing up is a Big Event.  You pay for the whole deal, which includes being surrounded by Fabulous People, like Clinton Kelly remarked once.  It's fun and a nice one-time-only special pleasure when you live your life in washables and work clothes.

In my experience, it's only the elites who think their flip-flops and jeans are suitable attire for state dinners.  It feels as if it's just one more culture shift that's keeping the working-class types one step behind again.  Before, it was appropriate to wear a suit and tie and nice dress, when the ordinary folks couldn't, and now that they caught on, suddenly it's "oh, your cotton pajama pants are just fine for the Academy of Music."

It just feels like one more symptom of the fact that "we" feel that this is "our" territory and that we need to teach the interlopers how to dress and behave.  If the music lived anywhere beyond the concert hall, this wouldn't be an issue.  We need to stop bringing "them" into "our" territory, and go out into places where "they" get to tell "us" how to dress because we're in their space.  It's just music.  It can be played anywhere.  Maybe you can't drag 104 people into a bar, but I still maintain that unless the music gets out into other venues, none of this matters.

January 19, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

Where is the rest of a given city's music scene located?  And what sorts of things do a given orch's musicians do in their off time to have fun and jam together?  If you have a couple guys who get together and play bluegrass on the weekends, a couple of brass who have a Latin band, and the cellist who plays flamenco guitar on her off time ... then get some sort of a partnership going with venues for that sort of music.  I've gone over this earlier on in the thread -- check out the comments I've made above.

The orch has to insert itself into the music scene of its city to start with.  Without that, there's no point to trying anything else.  Beyond that, there's always stuff like what the BSO has done, which is golden.

January 19, 2011 at 09:51 PM ·

I've previously cited this You Tube clip of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra playing Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 -- "Classical" -- i. and ii.  The outfits the guys in the orchestra are wearing are so functional, so practical, and just my style for performance -- no jacket, no tie, open collar, sleeves rolled back from the wrists.

I first started wearing this kind of performing outfit at 19-20 y/o for some chamber playing in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.  It was late May, and a strong heat wave gripped the whole area for about a week -- with afternoon temperatures around 95 F. -- and with no air-conditioned rooms.

I've harped plenty on how the less formal concert dress could help to break down the wall of stuffy snobbery, elitism, and apartness.  Whether or not this would help to fill more seats, one thing I know as a player: It makes eminently good sense from the standpoint of practicality and functionality.  Having once experienced such freedom of hands and arms in performance, I could no more go back to the ritual of jacket and tie for this intense, hot, gritty work than I could do so for the intense, hot, gritty work of lawn-cutting.

- I N T E R M I S S I O N -

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