The Arts Held Hostage

March 12, 2011 at 02:19 AM ·

I recently heard that the chamber orchestra associated with a local symphony orchestra would be playing an all-Bach concert this weekend -- two works by J.S. Bach, and one each by two of his sons.  I was enormously excited -- I've loved J.S. Bach all my life (LITERALLY all my life!).  Having started playing violin recently -- and also having recently joined a beginners' orchestra -- I was looking forward to a) hearing some of my favorite music performed live, and b) being able to observe trained orchestral violinists in action.

This afternoon I phoned the performing arts center where the concert is to be held to find out about ticket prices and availability.  My heart sank when I found out that a ticket costs nearly $30.  I'm out-of-work, so we're down to one income in our household.  I scouted around to find an affordable violin teacher, and so far have been able to put together the needed funds for a weekly lesson.  But a single concert ticket would cost more than two weeks of lessons.  I'd invited my mother to go to the concert with me -- she insisted she'd only go if she could pay for her own ticket.  She's 89 years old, and on a fixed income.  Obviously, our attending the concert on Sunday isn't going to happen.

I realize that orchestras have overhead expenses.  But it seems to me that if they lowered their ticket prices to a level that more people could afford, they'd not only sell more tickets, but also extend access to the Arts to people who now have no chance of being able to experience a live orchestra performance.

Does anyone else feel that orchestras are pricing themselves out of the market?  Are the Arts being held hostage, accessible only to those with large bank accounts?  I'd be interested in hearing anyone else's point of view. 

Replies (65)

March 12, 2011 at 03:27 AM ·

Actually, $30 seems pretty reasonable.  But you do have a point.  Performing arts are not cheap.  I have tickets for Perlman next month and I paid over $100 each.  But if you do the math, it takes quite a bit in ticket sales just to make up the salaries in a professional orchestra.

Figure the average player earns $100K in a top orchestra.  If they do 100 concerts a year, then each player is getting paid $1000 per concert.  With 100 players in a symphony, that comes out to $100K to pay the the orchestra members for each concert.  Now add the soloist.  Top soloists like Perlman and YoYo Ma get about $75K per concert.  I think Hilary Hahn makes about $50K.  So let's say $150K to pay the orchestra and the soloist.  A typical concert hall has 2000 seats.  So if they sell every seat, they would have to charge $75 per ticket just to pay the salaries.  That doesn't include any of the admin fees, overhead, marketing, etc.  From a business perspective, the numbers do not look good for the performing arts.

That said, Hilary Hahn performed in the DC area recently, and they were offering $10 student tickets.  Now that is a deal.  But she played with a piano, so did not have the added cost of a full symphony.

March 12, 2011 at 04:21 AM ·

Post heavily re-edited 3-12-2011 for clarity and, I hope, accuracy. -- JH
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As an entrepreneur for almost 15 years, I know that, if my business can't support itself, it can't support me.  Accordingly, I set realistic rates -- those that represent fair-market value for my time and expertise -- no less, no more.  This approach gets good results.  I discount student and retiree customers' jobs 20%.

In mulling over the issue of ticket prices during the last 12 hours or so, I have to say: My original statement that arts organizations are pricing themselves out of the market is quite inaccurate.  As we know, in tough economic times, we have to make tough choices -- what to keep in our personal budgets and what to cut.

One beauty of the free-market system is that, if one provider's prices are too high, we can usually find another provider to fit our budgets.  And major symphony orchestras have plenty of competitors these days -- community orchestras, CDs, radio, satellite, You Tube -- that's only the beginning.

My city has an excellent symphony orchestra.  Although the ticket prices for most seats wouldn't break the bank for me, being similar to what Marsha listed in her original post, my schedule keeps me away from the concert hall at present.

Still, I don't feel that anything can quite take the place of live performances -- even though they have nothing like the near-monopoly they had before the dawn of electronic media.  And, as a player, I know that there's nothing like the thrill of connecting with a live audience.

I stand by my words on the stuffy snobbery that hangs around so many symphony halls.  This I can do without.  I'm sure most of the audience here will agree.

March 12, 2011 at 04:26 AM ·

I totally relate to this. I've actually stopped going to local symphonies because it's just too darn expensive. (Well, that and because for roughly the same price I could get tickets to one of two of the great orchestras in the world, just down the highway a couple of hours away... It's nice living close to a major metro area.)

I'm going to brainstorm a bit here... Have orchestras ever tried having one concert in their series without an intermission, with fewer pieces, and then charging less for admittance? Maybe the orchestra could partner up with a local restaurant, and then have an optional discounted dinner there afterward? Then the poor people like us could just come for the music and not stay for the dinner, and those who could afford it could still have a nice night out. Maybe orchestras could start a fourth tier of tickets: Student, Adult, Seniors, and....Underclass. (Only joking about the name...well, a little...) I don't know how you'd prove your income, though. Maybe an orchestra could try it for a concert or two on the honor system and see what happens. I would think that most audience members who could honestly afford it would support the orchestra, but...maybe I'm naive. How about a program where sponsors who can afford a ticket pay for half or three-quarters of a ticket for someone else who can't afford it? We sponsor orchestra chairs, why not sponsor deserving audience members? I bet some people would do that. How about people who want to come to a concert but can't afford it submit requests to the orchestra, explaining why they want to go to this concert? These stories could be posted anonymously on a blog and then patrons who are moved by a certain person's story could chip in toward paying for that person's ticket.

Just some rambling thoughts.

The only foolproof way to get free tickets that I know of - besides striking up friendships with the musicians - is to volunteer. In my experience, seats are almost always set aside for volunteers, including ushers and the people who rip the ticket stubs and program-hander-outers. You could try calling them and asking if there's any project, such as a website or graphic design or data input or advertising or whatever, that they need help with, and then ask if they could get you discounted tickets for your services. I think this is legal...?

Anyway, I don't know if any of those ideas are feasible, but I do know though that you're describing is a big problem, and we shouldn't be ashamed to talk about it and brainstorm about it. Maybe you could email the orchestra a quick polite note with your totally legitimate concerns. $30 seems a little steep for a local group, especially a chamber orchestra. For a comparison in your general geographic area, normal concerts at the Chicago Symphony starts at $25, and the Minnesota Orchestra starts at $26. (Well, plus facility fees, but still! These are some of the best orchestras in the world. Is the chamber orchestra with the Bachs one of the great orchestras in the world?) But these larger organizations have the advantage of large halls, where they can charge more for great seats, and maybe even out a bit of the difference. I'm not quite sure how that all works.

I really hope you find an arrangement that suits you. As a semi-pro violinist, it would really pain me to see willing audience members not be able to come to concerts. Yes, I know musicians need to make a living, I totally get that, but the idea of an auditorium full of people there just to be seen or have something to do on a Saturday night, as opposed to an auditorium full of people who are going through some tough times financially who come for the love of the music and our art... Well, you can imagine what audience I'd prefer every time.

(Coincidentally, my local chamber orchestra is also putting on a concert with three Bachs in it, but in April. It's going to cost $20 a person, $17 for seniors, and $8 for students...and I'm not going, for the same reason you are.)

March 12, 2011 at 05:23 AM ·

I ended up playing in the pit orchestra for our community musical this spring.  I was angry when I found out they were charging $20 a head and we weren't getting paid a dime.  Not only that, but I had to buy my husband a ticket to go see it, since they didn't give out any comp tickets.  But then they published a lengthy article in the paper promoting the show.  In it, they described the costs of putting on a production like Peter Pan.  They had to pay for flying equipment and professional flying trainers.  They had to pay for the rights to the score, the advertizing, purchase the music, build the stage props, rent/make the costumes, and pay for the facilities.  When all was said and done, they were hoping to break even.

We performed 9 shows in a 900+ seat theater, and all the shows were very full, with five of them selling out.  I think the high publicity helped a lot, but I think it helped people feel better about forking over $20 for a community musical when they knew they could read what the money was covering.

When it comes to orchestra concerts, it is very difficult to cover the costs of putting one together.  Facilities, music rental, and musician fees must be covered.  The Anchorage Symphony sells tickets for as low as $20, but they are a semi-professional orchestra, so the musicians don't make a full-time salary.  Plus, they are highly supported by Conoco Phillips.  Our season was three-quarters sold before it even began, and our concert hall is always packed.  They have done a commendable job keeping classical concerts affordable.

March 12, 2011 at 05:34 AM ·

Most orchestras and arts organizations only derive a small percentage of their budget from ticket sales. The vast majority of funding comes from a relatively small number of patrons who make enormous donations. So free market forces are somewhat skewed - it's more in the orchestras best financial interests to keep the big money patrons satisfied. Seems it's always been that way.

March 12, 2011 at 08:10 AM ·

 I can totally relate to your problem of the high ticket prices and such for these concerts, but at the same time, I understand also that the musicians, backstage, venue and everything in between also need to make a living also.
A friend of mine last week saw an advertisement for a concert of the 20th C hits- including stuff like star wars and harry potter. A look at the prices, even for C reserve, it was well beyond what the average student (like us) can afford. Even concession prices, are well beyond my reach.. 

Might this also be a reason for the diminishing numbers of kids/teenagers being interested in classical music? It's not very accessible. And youtube, as much as it's a great source, it just wouldn't be the same as if it was live.

March 12, 2011 at 11:53 AM ·

Those same teenagers are happily paying around £60 (=$100) a ticket for pop performers in an arena where they're miles from the stage. Personally I think ticket prices are very reasonable. Putting on concerts is an expensive business. Hall hire is a major cost. Unless the orchestra owns the hall, which is unlikely, they have to pay the city council or whoever owns it a big fee. I now play with an amateur (community) orchestra. We all pay for membership, but hall hire, music hire, soloist fees (small - they're local professionals doing us a favour) and small fees to our professional leader and conductor all mount up. We struggle to break even on ticket prices of around $20 (with concessions).

Emily mentions the local musical - I used to play for many of these, and made sure we were paid the correct rate. Think about it - they happily pay out for all the costs you list, but then expect to bring in musicians for free. Remember, you will be valued at the price you put on yourself. I learned that one the hard way a lot of years ago.

Putting on any sort of concert is expensive - one of the gigs I do fairly regularly is a Messiah in a cathedral. To do this with a small orchestra of  around 16 players, we would be paid around £150 or so each - what the audience don't see is that we've done two full-length rehearsals on the preceding two nights. So that's nearly £2,500 just for the orchestra - work out for yourself how many bums on seats x ticket price are needed to cover that. Then there are 4 soloists etc.

Compared to the cost of many things in everyday life, I think ticket prices are very reasonable.


March 12, 2011 at 12:36 PM ·


That is very true. People I know of (and know) quite happily pay £30 for two or 3 CD's - and I know that some people have huge collections of several thousand CD's (When they get time to hear them I can't imagine). A thousand CD's at average price £10 = £10,000

Some people spend this amount (£30+) every week - and some a lot more.

People also spend huge amounts on wine and alcohol. A bottle of wine a day and other drinks and you are talking £2,000 + a year. That would buy a lot of concert tickets, maybe more than 100!!

Then there are all those other luxuries people spend a lot of money on.

March 12, 2011 at 07:06 PM ·

Great apologies.  I was way off last night when I posted that our local symphony ticket prices were more than double what Marsha had encountered.  Yikes -- I was looking at the series prices.  So I had to go back and heavily re-edit yesterday evening's reply, above.

If you purchase a series ticket, you pay between USD $82 and $248 -- for six evenings.  That's between $14 and $41 per evening -- rounded off to nearest dollar.

Student tickets for the series cost between $33 and $124.  That's between $6 and $21 per evening.

I compared these with ticket prices for the Boston Symphony and Chicago Symphony.

According to my research online, Boston's Tuesday and Thursday evening tickets are $29 to $108.  Open rehearsals are $20.

Chicago's prices are from $28 to $133, with box seats at $207.  Student rates are $10 to $128, with box seats at $203.
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Again, sorry for the confusion earlier.  I'm still "all here."

March 12, 2011 at 07:22 PM ·

 "As we know, in tough economic times, we have to make tough choices -- what to keep in our personal budgets and what to cut."

i think in any economic times, we should make tough choices. :)

i can understand where the op is coming from, passionate about live music but short on funds, especially from 2 income to 1 income.  we can look at it as if the classical world is pricing itself out of the market, but another way is that temporarily op is pricing herself out of the classical market.  when op's situation improves, there will be more options.  until then, it is wiser to have less options.  this principle applies to any individuals, any families, any organizations.  i have no problem pointing it out and others do:)

look around us.  let's not talk about wine and dine.  lets just talk about gourmet coffee for a second.  it seems that the millionaires are buying from costcos and making their own coffee and the yet to be financially independent spend a fortune making starbucks profitable.

it is indeed a choice and there is a trade-off.

ps.  my cheap chinese bow is another example.  i am under the delusion that the bow is holding me back! haha.

March 12, 2011 at 09:19 PM ·

"… it seems to be the millionaires are buying from costcos and make their own coffee and the yet to be financially independent spend a fortune making starbucks profitable."
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Right on.  In the same way, a lot of down-and-out folks, with opportunistic state governments preying on the desperation of the poor, practically bankrupt themselves by purchasing lottery tickets week after week.

About millionaires -- it's well known that a lot of them don't own second homes or the latest car models -- or even million-dollar first homes.  What's the old saying?  "Waste not, want not."

Regarding "wine and dine" -- I can't help recalling a statement that Ben Franklin uses in his Poor Richard's Almanac: "What maintains one vice would bring up two children."

About the bow: This brings to mind one of Kato Havas's observations: "A great many artists work miracles on an instrument that is not precious."  This carries over to the bow, too, as I know from experience.

March 12, 2011 at 11:21 PM ·

The classical performing arts groups in my city started a "Music for All" program earlier this year, which offers food stamp beneficiaries $5 tickets to attend classical performances. Memphis has been doing something similar for years.  However, this still does not help those who are working class but  priced out of attending live arts performances... According to this article, though, no other cities in the U.S. offers similar programs.  This makes me wonder - hasn't the classical music world been complaining about low attendance for a long time?  Why don't they give out a few unsold seats for free or offer discounted day-of-performance tickets, but would rather see empty seats?  Here is my theory - having the means and the time to attend classical music/dance performances is a status symbol! Many arts administrators worry about losing the perceived prestige if they lower the prices or give away tickets to the poor, and drive away the rich patrons...  I really hope I'm wrong!

March 12, 2011 at 11:33 PM ·

@ al ku:  "i think in any economic times, we should make tough choices. :)"

Well put!  I suspect many millionaires are where they are (as Jim also alludes) largely because of those very choices, many times multiplied, to go with the Costco coffee beans rather than the Starbuck's cuppa!  I forget which author wrote about an "embarrassment of opportunity," but that is certainly the experience of most of us in an affluent western culture.  The potential for frittering away not only money but time is enormous, requiring more personal discipline and clarity about priorities than ever, in my opinion.

Also, as per Jim's earlier post, free market is a wonderful thing, automatically distilling a society's true priorities, as many orchestras are painfully aware.  My hope would be that these priorities still be determined by conscious choice, not just defaulted into because of a culture increasingly riddled with Distraction, as Damon Young's book by that title would argue.  Increased opportunity equals increased responsibility, and character is when there is a choice.

March 13, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

"Here is my theory - having the means and the time to attend classical music/dance performances is a status symbol!  Many arts administrators worry about losing the perceived prestige if they lower the prices or give away tickets to the poor, and drive away the rich patrons."
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This lines up with what I've long suspected.

From Nick's reply, above: "The vast majority of funding comes from a relatively small number of patrons who make enormous donations."

And I've linked to this blog before: Joshua and the Symphony Snobs.

March 13, 2011 at 01:19 AM ·

 terez's great blog reminds me of 2 recent events.  as much as i am sympathetic to the plight of those suffering from allergies, i am flabbergasted by the self-centeredness of some people

1. recently on vacation, a lady, the matriarch of the family i take, went ballistic at a server on the next table.  apparently she told him about her kid's allergy to something and apparently the kid had an reaction.  it was so humiliating, as if the server was capable of and responsible for anything from the kitchen.  in the end, the entire staff seemed to be bowing toward her at the table.  thank god it was not inside usa, or another lawsuit of 100 mil will be filed:)

2. not far from where i live last week a kid's parents proposed to the school where their kid attends that every other child of the school should refrain from bringing in any peanut related food item,,,because they want their kid to experience a "normal" life without worries and anxieties.  somehow i feel there is a strong possibility that the parents are patrons of the classical arts, haha:)

March 13, 2011 at 04:15 AM ·


I'm not sure how we got on the subject of allergies, but I feel compelled to reply.  I agree, some parents of allergy sufferers are quite overbearing with their demands and it can really be a big turn off.  That is unfortunate and does not help the growing population of allergic people.

I hope that I am not one of the overbearing ones, but my son has severe food allergies.  I think many people think we (i.e., parents of allergic children) are crazy, or that we are blowing things out of proportion, but I can attest, it is a big, big struggle for my son and our family.  Basically, there is not a single restaurant where we can eat, with the exception of the country club where we are members.  The chef knows us and knows our son personally.  They take extrordinary measures to ensure that his meals are not contaminated by washing the pots and pans before using them, frying his food in clean oil, and ensuring that all ingredients are checked for known allergens.  They have been very accommodating, but then again, we pay quite a bit to be members of the club, so maybe we deserve a little special treatment. :-)

My son has experienced allergic reactions ranging from uncomfortable itching, to extreme hives, swelling eyes, and throwing up.  Any one of these reactions pretty much ruins his and our entire day.  However, we consider ourselves lucky that we have never had to rush him to the hospital due to an allergic reaction.  The worst case scenario of an allergic reaction is death.  There was a teenage girl a few years back who died after kissing a boy who had eaten a peanut butter sandwich 9 hours earlier.  I'm sure you can find the story if you do a google search.

At any rate, I thought I would offer a perspective from the other side of the fence.  My son is an amazing kid and I would not trade him for the world, but his allergies are something that we have learned to deal with.  I have never pushed to ban peanut products from the school.  I don't think they would even if I did, but when your kid has a life threatening allergy to peanuts, it is a scary thing to have hundreds of kids running around with peanut butter sandwiches in their lunch boxes and coming in contact with your kid who could die just because someone didn't wash their hands. 


March 13, 2011 at 04:27 AM ·


Art that is free is valueless.

And $30 is cheap. Try buying a pop concert ticket.

"Are the Arts being held hostage, accessible only to those with large bank accounts?"

No, people who want something for nothing are holding themselves hostage. You pay for things you value. If you can't afford $30 for a ticket, then you really don't value that experience. You only "value" it if it is free.



March 13, 2011 at 04:06 PM ·

Um, woah. That was pretty rude, imo. Shockingly there are people out there where $60+ for a couple of hours of entertainment for two people is actually a lot of money, especially if you're trying to swing weekly violin lessons and all of the costs associated with that (books, rosin, re-hairs, tuners, metronomes, strings). It's especially difficult for the elderly and disabled (I'm the latter, by the way, and know of what I speak). Sure, doubtless some, maybe even most, people could afford tickets if they cut back on other non-essentials, but I'm going to take the OP at her word that she's one of those people who really honestly can't afford it. And also, if $30 is so cheap, then why do seats for world-class orchestras - not local orchestras, as I'm assuming OP's example is - in the States start at $25? Are they just being charitable? I highly doubt it.

March 13, 2011 at 04:13 PM ·

I'm hoping that Bill's post is meant sarcastically...  assuming [hoping] that it is, it's yet another example of how tone doesn't carry in the written word.

I've been criticized a few times for saying things that I never dreamed someone could take seriously --- but someone did.  Now I try to put something like " " at the end of a post if I'm worried about how it's going to be interpreted (unless I'm on my local newspaper's website making fun of conservatives :-p)

March 13, 2011 at 04:18 PM ·

Thanks for your responses, everyone.  I didn't have any time to spend on the computer yesterday, so this is the first chance I've had to read what you think.

I'd like to respond to Bill Platt:  "Art that is free is valueless."  Art is art, regardless of price.  It's someone putting a piece of their soul out there for anyone to see or hear -- just because they have something to express.  When I hear Beethoven's later works -- knowing what he went through to share them with the world -- I can't help getting teary-eyed.  I can listen to the music on the radio -- for free -- and that doesn't diminish its value in the least.  I can go to hear it at an orchestra concert -- which I've done, but not recently -- and it still has the same emotional impact.  I love the paintings of Albert Bierstadt and other "Hudson River School" artists.  I've seen them reproduced in books from the library -- for free -- and I've seen them in art museums.  In both cases, I'm awestruck.  They have value, no matter what venue they appear in.

"Thirty dollars is cheap."  Thirty dollars is NOT cheap if you don't have a disposeable thirty dollars.  I live in a town that became the nationally-recognized unemployment "poster child" when the economy took a dive.  Our unemployment rate made headlines and national network newscasts.  It's getting better, but there are still WAY too many people to whom thirty dollars MUST be allocated to essentials rather than entertainment.  My family and I certainly aren't destitute -- we're a considerable distance from it -- but when there's a house payment looming in the near future, my thirty dollars is going to go toward that, and not a concert ticket.

I don't want or expect "something for nothing".  If I'd had more notice about the concert, I would have had the opportunity to save up the funds gradually.  But by the time I heard about it, there just wasn't that much "loose change" available on short notice.  If I have to make a choice between having the money for my violin lessons and going to a concert, my lessons are going to win every time.

I know the orchestra has financial responsibilities they have to meet.  I don't know what the pay arrangements (if any) are for the musicians.  The concert hall has got to be very expensive for them to rent -- it's on the Notre Dame University campus, and NOTHING there is cheap!!  Their list of expenses must go on and on.  I'm not sure HOW financial considerations could be made for senior citizens, limited-income music lovers, etc.  I just wish there was a way they COULD be.

Thanks again for your input, everyone.  I value the "expanded perspective".  :) 

March 13, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

 smiley, sorry that earlier i digressed into allergy, having read terez's blog in which allergy was a point of contention (see link in jim's post).  some kids outgrow their "allergies" with time, so let's hope for the best for your kid.   the reason i brought up the first case is that parents with allergic kids should not "trust" anyone, certainly not a server who can barely understand english, let alone the ramifications of anaphylaxis.  i think if they sit down in a restaurant and decide to eat, they have to assume the food is "contaminated" and prepare for it all the time.  the second case is that even if the parents can manage to make one school peanut free, i am not sure if that is a good lesson for kid in the future because other situations can be more challenging.  have your kid tried some alternative med to modulate his immune system?

back to the expensiveness of classical concert tickets.  i can see people wincing at tickets costing hundreds (expensive naps:), but, seriously, 20-30 dollars for a show with many live people on stage is not expensive.   even  a student recital sometimes is already 10-15 bucks already.   i remember about 10 years ago we went to see a movie in new york city...i thought i paid over 13 dollars each.  with pop corns and sodas,,,weeeee,,,might as well go for a classical concert:)

March 13, 2011 at 05:38 PM ·

Orchestras today are bloated in size far beyond what their original creators probably intended. What's interesting is how fast we went from the orchestra of Papa Haydn to the massive ensembles of Wagner and those who followed, probably in less than fifty years. This could only happen because there were no electronic diversions, as someone has already pointed out, no major league sports teams, no wide-screen cinema, no stock-car races, and so on ad nauseam. The demand for orchestral and operatic performances was so great that private entrepreneurs could make a considerable amount of money from privately financed concerts-- think of the successes of Handel and Haydn in England, for example.

Part of the reason for their success was that the nobility were in a sense competing with the private events, so there was still a substantial amount of patronage involved. In either scenario, musicians were underpaid, and it was still an era where the composer was far more valuable than the conductor.

Almost all the conditions around orchestras at that time have changed, but the size of the orchestra has not. To maximize even inadequate revenue, major ensembles must locate in major cities where there are potentially large audiences, own or lease large performance venues, and now pay huge expenses for larger-than-life conductors and soloists. While many parts of the model seem to be broken, from my perch the issue of size remains the elephant in the room. I suspect that there will always be some large orchestras in major urban areas, for most I believe it is a question of downsize or die.

If I can't afford to live in a large house, then I'd better get in a smaller one. If my income will not allow me to buy a Lexus, I can still get everywhere I want to go in something smaller and more fuel-efficient. I understand why the boards of large orchestras and even the musicians themselves are loathe to let go of all they've attained, but the prospect might not seem so frightening if they looked at what is to be gained rather than what might be lost.

My three cent's worth.

March 13, 2011 at 07:05 PM ·

No problem and I agree with both your points.  I just read Terez blog and I agree, some people just act as if they are entitled.  I see more of that than I want to at the club. 

March 13, 2011 at 11:03 PM ·

"I've actually stopped going to local symphonies because it's just too darn expensive. (Well, that and because for roughly the same price I could get tickets to one of two of the great orchestras in the world, just down the highway a couple of hours away... It's nice living close to a major metro area.)"


Wow, that's rich.  2 hours = 120 miles. At 25c per mile, that's $60 round trip. 


Great example of false economy.

Even better example of value though. It is obviously worth the money to Emily to go to the great orchestras.


I don't get Marsha. What the heck. What do you want me to say? "Oh, poor baby, yes, those symphony bastards are GREEDY PIGs."?  I ain't gonna say it. It ain't true.  If you can't afford it, I feel for you. But that is your problem, not the "industry." "Held Hostage." What a crock!

March 14, 2011 at 12:38 AM ·

"The concert hall has got to be very expensive for them to rent -- it's on the Notre Dame University campus, and NOTHING there is cheap!! "

Maybe therein lies the solution. Can pressure be put on hall owners to cut the hire costs? Not necessarily subsidising the arts, but at least not profiting from them!

There's a hall here owned by the City. Years back, it had a manager who was happy to let us use the hall at cost if there wasn't a prior booking. So we covered heating, lighting, staff costs etc. He was happy to see "his" hall used provided it didn't cost anything and he reckoned that was preferable to having the doors shut that night. What was the council's response? They sacked him! Not sure what it costs us to book it now, but I think it's in the region of £1000 and may be more. So most times we have to look for a cheaper (and smaller and less accessible) hall with poorer acoustics.

While a bit of funding from the council wouldn't go amiss, we'd quite happily settle for a bit of support in kind. And if they let us have the hall for free or for a nominal cost, we could very happily reduce ticket prices. But I'm not sure the price puts many people off. We normally aim to charge around £12 ($20) per seat, but I don't think we would get many more if it was half that.

Another poster was castigated for saying people don't value what they get free. This is true in so many areas - when shopping, whether it's for food or household goods, people partly judge things by the price. Buying (say) a kettle or toaster, or even a tin of beans, there's the supermarket own brand at a lower price than the branded goods. Just look how many people buy the branded version on the assumption that because it's more expensive, it must be better. As I alluded earlier, to a large extent you are valued at the price you put on yourself.


March 14, 2011 at 02:19 AM ·

 I see absolutely nothing rude about Bill's post. Ingenuous perhaps, but not rude.

The fact is that most symphonies today do not collect enough at the door to pay the musicians and are forced to rely on donors and grants. If they have to lower prices, they have to make it up by either firing musicians or looking for money, much of which has dried up with the recession.

As Bill rightly points out, we have come to devalue so many things, and music is one of them. We've bred a generation to expect everything for free at the push of a button. That's the bind that the newspapers have put themselves in, just as one example.

$30 is nothing in the world of live music.

March 14, 2011 at 02:27 AM ·

I sometimes worry that the symphony orchestra, like the music written for it, may be a 19th century institution that is out of place in the 21st century economy--an institution that was originally built on paying a large number of performers a barely livable wage to entertain the haute bourgeoisie, a model that can't be sustained in an era when orchestral players undergo a very rigorous training and are required to exhibit a very high level of skill, and consequently aspire to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.  (I also suspect that the skill level and training of 19th century orchestras was vastly inferior to that achieved by the major orchestras in the second half of the 20th century.)

But maybe there's hope for the symphony orchestra yet, since we seem to be deliberately choosing to revert to the 19th century socio-economic model of a small number of very wealthy individuals and a large number of other people eking out a marginal livelihood at a subsistence level.

March 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM ·

When you consider that a movie, at least in NY, can cost at least $11, and Superbowl tickets are what? - if you have to ask they're not for you - $30 for a symphony concert is pretty reasonable. Some orchestras sell tickets for open dress rehearsals for a lot less. You migfht try that, and find it even more interesting.

I don't like to get into politics, but i think that we're held hostage much more to oil imports. In fact, we can complain about the price of anything and everything - but somehow the arts are always the most fair game, and the most expendable. When I get a call inquiring about a wedding, I can sometimes hear an audible gasp at the other end of the phone. I bet that the reaction is not the same when it comes to the hall, officiator, flowers, invitations, catering - and of course, the wedding gown. But we musicians should maybe play for free. After all, it's just "playing".

March 14, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

Last spring I was really looking forward to going to Glyndebourne to see my favourite opera Billy Budd. However my plans were drastically rewritten when the tickets went on sale to the public starting at £180 (just under $300). As one friend said to me, "That's £180 you just saved".

Fortunately they released Billy Budd as a film that I could see at my local cinema thus saving travel and accommodation, but £180! How many good quality box sets could that get me? I also went to the Glyndebourne on tour events about 40 miles away, again at a fraction of the price.

March 14, 2011 at 07:05 PM ·


Great example of false economy.

Even better example of value though. It is obviously worth the money to Emily to go to the great orchestras.

Well, yes. I may not be a math whiz, but thankfully I do know enough to take transportation costs into account! :) I was meaning to make a point - which I see now I made poorly - that $30 for a regional group is steep as compared to other orchestras' prices. We can discuss whether orchestras should charge more or less, or have different tiers of service, or whatever, but the fact remains that an entry-level ticket cost of $30 per person for a local chamber orchestra in this area of the country is pretty steep. *shrug*

Anyway, I've said more than what I need to, so I'm going to mosey out of this thread... It leaves an unpleasant after-taste, and I'm not sure why... I sympathize with Marsha's position and I sympathize with Bill's position, as well (although perhaps I would have chosen to articulate my sympathy differently). It's a complicated issue, and I hope that as we move forward as a community of citizens and music lovers, we make wise choices, and that in the end as many people as possible can get a chance to see live classical music.


March 14, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

Simple enough: if the hall is full, the prices are too low.  Vacant seats = prices too high.  Concert venues know they have to balance this.  They are fundamentally a business not a social service.  

March 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM ·

this thread blows my mind.

March 15, 2011 at 03:47 AM ·

Jim: it is said that Warren Buffett once had someone ask him for a dime to make a phone call (oh, the joys of inflation!). He had a quarter on him -- and went to make change.

Al and Smiley: I don't know how we got on the subject either, but it happens to be one I feel strongly about.  A lot of people don't respect serious food allergies. They think it is like seasonal hayfever, not something potentially deadly. I don't like to think that I would go "ballistic," as I know that you have to accept some risk if you want to enjoy dining out, but I would be beyond upset. The server is the only intermediary most people have with the kitchen; part of the job is to be knowledgeable about the food, and if not, then ASK. I have had servers who obviously were not, and did not (that ought to be insulting to all patrons!). My friends are prepared for this scenario, but that preparation means Benadryl and an Epi-pen and when you see them after that, all puffy and out-of-it, it's pretty sad. There has to be at least a partial sense of responsibility on the part of those who are getting paid to, at a minimum, not kill their customers.  Why, if it was discovered that they were putting cooked meat and raw meat on the same plate, they could be shut down!  People without allergies also can get very entitled and even belligerent about their "right" to peanuts, etc. From where I sit, forgoing this "right" is a really small price to pay for having my best friend alive and not in misery.

Now regarding the thread...I see a problem in comparing small-time local orchestras to "world-class" orchestras. The very comparison is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Newton wrote of the principle of inertia -- objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Like a rolling snowball. When you already have a world-class reputation, money and acclaim and hot talent seek YOU and thus the reputation becomes a whole lot easier to maintain. People seeking to donate have a safe option that has been vetted for them already.  I'm not saying there isn't work involved in the marketing dept., but they do it from an established position of relative security.  Likewise, when you have been branded as B-list, regardless of actual quality but based on the perception of quality, it is harder to get a leg up.  It's also worth mentioning, as Anne Midgette of the Washington Post pointed out in a feature on regional orchestras earlier this year, that you will more often than not see some of the same faces on both stages.  The DC area is an expensive place to live, which I know from the sticker shock a couple of my teachers have experienced on moving there, and a $100,000 salary just doesn't go as far as you might think.

Robert: To add to that, it was an era when the composer very often WAS the conductor! :)

Malcolm: I don't think tickets should be prohibitively expensive, since they aren't where the real dough is anyway, but you are very right that they should rarely be completely free. Even a relatively small amount of money is an investment that isn't so easy to walk away from. I have worked in a university theater, which was the school's choice of venue for a free lecture series, ticket still required. Those were the biggest piles of unclaimed will calls I have ever seen.

March 15, 2011 at 04:20 AM ·

I was going to stay out of this one, but when I saw the poor Brit that couldn't see Billy Budd because of ticket cost. I also happen to like good live theater as well as opera, but my budget doesn't allow me to see more than one or two a decade. I think the mega-productions have set the bar for all productions, and the cost of the process for any entertainment is out of bounds. When a super-sized production has cost centers for promotion, advertising, advance site work, booking, staging, and all the other things, it is OK. When the sum of  those cost centers are getting in the range of what it would take to manage a small city, it is getting out of bounds.

With the bigger approach, everything  scales up. I don't think the quality of the offering is any better for it; only the size is bigger.

I think that musicians as artists deserve to have an adequate salary to pay for the cost of their instruments and training.
  think that tickets may be a smaller part of the revenue, but it is still part of the equation, but if the sponsors and donors instead were to provide grants for training and for the musicians to purchase quality instruments, then the musicians would be able to get instruments without needing to be as concerned about the income to afford it.
Further, if the concert costs related to visiting dignitaries (I mean soloists) were separately sponsored, then that would not compete with the normal production cost of the symphony.

Separating different aspects of the cost while providing the musicians what they need would allow the overall event to be more streamlined. This could allow a large symphonic group to act as smaller groups but combine for larger scale productions.
I haven't thought it through yet, but I think the quality of production does not need to diminish to produce a model for smaller quality ensembles, and they could be seasoned musicians with top quality instruments. Instead of a slate of larger productions in a typical schedule, there could be a few larger productions, and a host of smaller ones. Each musician would have about as much practice and playing time, but the public would have a better chance at more affordable tickets, and closer seats.

And, it could possibly stretch into other arts, allowing reasonably priced seats for Billy Budd!

March 15, 2011 at 07:27 AM ·

Thanks for your concern Roland, I don't want too much pity for not going to see the live version of Billy Budd and having the Glyndebourne experience. I could have dipped into savings and foregone something else, but it was a value judgement and also a niggling feeling that the pricing was designed to keep out the riff-raff. I would have paid up to £100 ($160) because I am a big fan of this opera.

Opera isn't always expensive. For example last year my sister came down to London to see the Blackeyed Peas and rather than join her I opted to see Tosca. At £25 my seat was probably about a third of the price of hers and it was an excellent production.

March 15, 2011 at 11:17 AM ·

 hello nicole, if this thread is about taking responsibility, self entitlement and self preservation, come to think of it, i think the digression into how to handle food allergies on some level has some to offer:)

although i agree more or less with everything that you have said, if i am allergic, if my kids are allergic, or if anyone is allergic for that matter,  i don't trust anyone when life is on the line.  i would love to trust a violin with a strad label, or a presidential candidate's promise, but i just do not.  in fact, it takes the sight of just one allergic reaction from my kid to seal that deal. (have you ever seen someone all of a sudden gasping for air?  i have)  i must assume that the server may indicate that he understands my humble request but somehow the message may be lost in a commercial kitchen.  i must assume that perhaps the plate or the food items may be mistakenly contaminated with allergens beyond their knowledge or control.  it goes beyond,,,it is the thought that counts...

therefore, if parents with allergic kids do not have such mentality and then turn around to hold the world around them responsible and accountable, they may have done a disservice to their kids.  and be very unhappy and startled customers once in a while.

so it is after all about making choices: either stay at home and  know everything-hopefully-about what goes into a dish, or go out fully prepared for the potential worst, no matter how much a hassle it may be. and here is the catch:  if i accept the arrangement, then it is not a hassle anymore.  it is just another routine, perhaps an act of love to my kid.  if i cannot learn to accept it, then i have a lot to learn:)

March 15, 2011 at 11:38 AM ·

Jim and Raphael both mentioned "open rehearsals".  I've GOT to find out if the local symphony orchestra offers that option!!!  One of the biggest reasons I was hoping to go to that concert on Sunday was to observe the violinists and see if I could learn anything I could apply in playing in the little beginners' orchestra I recently joined.  I think I could learn SO much more in a rehearsal situation than at a regular concert -- it could definitely be money well-spent!

The concert-less afternoon turned out to be a pleasant one -- had a wonderful visit with my Mom and a much-loved aunt, and we listened to a recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #5 (probably around the same time that the concert-goers were hearing it).  Not as exciting as a live orchestra performance, but a memorable afternoon, none-the-less.

When I check with the symphony about the possibility of open rehearsals, I'm also going to ask them if they might consider at least a senior citizen level in ticket prices.  I'm not quite old enough to take advantage of senior prices in most places, but for those who are -- and who are on fixed incomes without the "wiggle room" to finance regular-price tickets -- this would be such a nice option!

March 15, 2011 at 05:47 PM ·


Thank you for sticking up for us allergic families.  It is encouraging to see that more and more non-allergic people are recognizing the difficulties of dealing with food allergies.  When I scream and shout, people think I am an overreacting parent.  But when non-allergic people start voicing their concern, people tend to be more receptive.  I am truly grateful for the non-allergic parents that stick up for us.  Their children forego peanut products for lunch because they choose to, not because they have to.  For us, peanut butter sandwiches are the equivalent of loaded guns. 

And then, there are those parents that actually detest kids with food allergies.  How dare they affect their kid's food options.  I wonder if they might have a problem with other kids bringing guns to school.

There was a kid a couple of years ago that died after eating some pretzels.  The pretzels were not supposed to contain any nut products, but they were made in the same facility as other nut products, and were contaminated.  So to cover their butts, many of the food manufacturers print a warning on their products they may contain traces of nuts.  I guess their strategy is, if someone dies after eating their products, they can say "I told you so."  As you can imagine, those warnings really make it hard to find food choices for an allergic child.  I personally don't know how to make pretzels, and even if I did, I doubt my kid would eat them.

Food allergies are nothing less than a disability.  Most all parking lots now have handicapped parking spaces.  It would be nice if restaurants made accommodations for people with food allergies.  I guess it is just too much hassle, and too much liability.  So for now, we eat all our meals at home.  If we travel, we bring food for our son, and as soon as we arrive at our destination, we find a grocery store so we can prepare his meals.


March 15, 2011 at 11:09 PM ·

 On a recent visit to LA, I went to a Lakers game one week and a Clippers game the next.  The two teams both play in the Staples Center, and they both play against the same mix of other NBA teams.  But Lakers tickets are about three times as expensive!

What's even funnier is when the two teams play each other... if it's designated a Clippers "home" game, it's at Clippers prices, but if it's a "Laker" game the prices are tripled again (and you get to see Jack Nicholson).

March 16, 2011 at 01:25 AM ·

it is kinda depressing talking about disability or unfair things that life did to us.  here is a kid who is able

March 16, 2011 at 02:27 AM ·

A note on the food allergy side topic: At my youngest daughter's school, a few years ago, the administration eliminated peanuts/peanut butter from the lower school cafeteria because a few kids have severe peanut allergies.  My daughter practically lives on peanut butter, but honestly the ban was nothing -- especially given what could have happened to those kids with allergies, even just coming in contact with some stray bit of peanut butter on a table or desk.  As far as I'm concerned, the stakes are just too high. It's a no brainer.  


March 16, 2011 at 03:26 AM ·

according to this parent's perspective, it is a "brainer" :)

March 16, 2011 at 11:43 AM ·

An interesting article, Al.  Regarding the "seatbelt risk" of the ban -- that is, the false sense of security it provides -- I do think the ban provides some measure of real security as well == parents and kids can know, at least, that the school won't be providing peanut-containing food, thereby reducing at least one major daily risk, and decreasing the likelihood of trace contamination from hands/clothes, at least from that source.  If seatbelts can lead (as some claim) to more reckless driving, they can also provide a real measure of safety and prevent you from flying through the windshield in a head-on collision.  But, true, bans don't place kids in a bubble -- the one little boy I know with a severe peanut allergy absolutely knows this in his bones and is extremely responsible and knowledgeable regarding the serious risks he faces everyday, especially for such a young boy.  I guess he has to be.  There's been no parental backlash at our school,  and it's been four years, and no stigmatizing that I'm aware of,.  The middle and upper schools (different building from lower school) do not have a ban in place, perhaps for some of the reasons mentioned in that article.  As for other food allergies, and the "where do you stop" argument, I'm not sure...I don't know about those allergies, and how lethal trace amounts can be....eliminating dairy or wheat would probably be more challenging, as these are staples of most diets (peanut butter, my own daughter to the contrary, is not), but so far we haven't had to deal with it at our school.  

March 16, 2011 at 12:58 PM ·

 point well taken, sean.  my kids do not have food allergies so essentially i don't know what i am talking about since i don't have personal experiences, esp with kids with severe cases.

yet, i still maintain that i do not trust the system even if the school food supply is under the peanut ban because as i said probably a million times by now in a thread about going to cheaper concerts that contamination, which can occur in any step of the food chain, does not come with labels and warnings.  we make a mistake or two on a daily basis and the consequences are not that big.  kids with allergies can drop dead if accidentally ingesting contaminated food.  on that, i think it is a no brainer to teach the kids the way advocated by that canadian mom.   people chant in a basketball game,,,defense, defense, defense.  people never yell, offense, offense, offense, because they get it.  :)

i agree however there is merit to legislation at times.  if my kids attend some inner city school in nyc, i would appreciate that the kids get screened for weapons so that the chance that everyone comes into the school with a gun or a knife is lowered..  at least i will feel better if that is what we are talking about here.

on the other hand, i am pretty sure the screening does not catch all, especially those who really want to do damage.   it is those who really want to do damage that is concerning.

marching into a school demanding peanut ban is one thing.  people coming together collectively on their own initiatives and asking the school to consider banning peanut products is another. 

ps, then we have german autobahn with no speeding limit but lower fatality rate than american highway.  duh.



March 16, 2011 at 02:25 PM ·

I agree. Self-defense has to be the watchword.  At our school, the decision was more cooperative, and was overwhelmingly supportedt by the parents. Basically, though severe food allergies demand vigilance by those who have them no matter the measures undertaken by others, we  agreed to try to make the environment a little safer for the youngest students. Hopefully, we have.  Admittedly, our school is small and all lunches are provided by the school, so it was probably easier than it would be at a larger institution where many children brown bag it every day.

March 16, 2011 at 03:12 PM ·

 I think that community and local symphonies can still be a good option.  But it may take a major metropolitan area to support those kinds of ensembles.

In the Boston area, with which I'm familiar, there are many local and community groups who put on reasonably priced and free concerts.  I play violin in such a group.  Our ticket prices are between $5 and $12.  Prices for kids, students, and seniors are towards the lower end of that scale.  And we have one free family concert per year, in which the hall is completely full.

We just had a discussion about ticket prices among board members recently, and I learned that in the past, all the concerts were entirely free, but the board got some advice from a financial planner that we should charge admission because it would make us, and the audience, value the concerts more.  An interesting psychology, but one I understand.  When something is completely free, people do tend to devalue its worth.

However, the prices should not be so high that they inhibit people on fixed incomes from coming (the families, seniors, etc. who make up our core audience).  Although I have only been in the orchestra for a few years and on the board for even less so I haven't had a long time to observe, it seems to me that this price point works pretty well.

March 16, 2011 at 03:16 PM ·

Interesting article Al, and for the most part I agree with their points.  Nothing will protect allergic kids better than the kids themselves.  As you correctly put it, defense is the key.  The problem is, we are all human.  If you look at the statistics for allergy related fatalities, the teenage years are the most problematic.  That's when kids who have carried their epi-pens all their lives, forget it one day (or multiple days), and then they injest something fatal.  There tends to be a higher degree of vigilance for the younger kids, but as years go by, allergic people who have not had a reaction in years can drop their guard. 

There was a college kid a while back who ate at the cafeteria every day.  One day he forgot his epi.  His room was just upstairs, but he was in a hurry and didn't go get it.  He figured it was safe because he had eaten there every day.  He took one bite of a cookie and died. 

My wife is terrified about bullying.  Kids can be cruel these days.  There was a kid that tried to get my son to eat a peanut, knowing that he is severly allergic.  Thankfully, my son knew better and reported him to the principal.  We are thinking about sending him to private school, even though the public schools in this area are the best in the country.  Our fear is that some kid might purposely contaminate his food just for kicks, or maybe purposely to harm him.  Our thinking is that the lower student / teacher ratio in a private school might be helpful in preventing bullying.  But as the article points out, we cannot let fear dictate our lives.  It's a balancing act.

March 16, 2011 at 04:32 PM ·

" even though the public schools in this area are the best in the country"


Everyone's public schools are the "best in the country."  ;-)

March 16, 2011 at 05:20 PM ·

"Everyone's public schools are the "best in the country."  ;-)"

Completely disagree.  There are plenty of areas where the schools are terrible, where public school would not even be a consideration for us.  Given the enormous amount of money I have paid in taxes, it would be unfortunate to have to send my kid to a private school.  But that's what I will do if it is the best for him.

March 16, 2011 at 07:14 PM ·

Hi Smiley,

Of course the reality is that some schools are better than others (but that variew with students' needs, too) but the fact remains that every wealthy school district believes it is the best in the country. Only one can be "best" if there is such a thing, so which is it? Darien, CT, or Cupertino, CA? Or Princeton, NJ? Or etc?

Fact is, even in towns with "the best schools in the country" there is a significant portion, in terms of academic achievement or personal resources, attending private school...


March 16, 2011 at 07:23 PM ·

Point taken.  I should have said...  " even though the public schools in this area are [among] the best in the country"  (addition of the word among).  I didn't intend it, but I agree, it would be presumptuous to assume that you are THE best -- kind of like saying Heifetz was THE BEST violinist who ever lived.  Big difference between that statement and Heifetz was among the best ...

March 16, 2011 at 07:25 PM ·

Talk about hijacking a thread.  Man are we off on a tangent here.  Sorry about that Marsha.  Let's all hope the financial situation improves soon.

March 17, 2011 at 12:00 AM ·

What invited some respondents to go off on a tangent -- i.e., on the subject of allergies -- was my link to Terez's blog in one of my earlier replies.  The blog briefly mentions allergies.  I won't link to it again here; anyone curious can scroll back through the thread to find it.
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"Kids can be cruel these days. … Our thinking is that the lower student / teacher ratio in a private school might be helpful in preventing bullying."
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My observations of human nature since childhood and my reading of history suggest that kids have always carried these seeds of potential cruelty within.  What makes juvenile cruelty and coarseness and bullying so appalling these days is that the restraining parental forces are often missing.  Some kids are growing up too fast, many with no father at home, others with neither parent.

Kids need love, security, and stability.  Being a kid, in and of itself, is tough enough.  I know -- I was there.  If I hadn't had a father and mother I could come home to each day, who loved and guided and trained my sisters and brother and me -- who knows? -- I might well have become the next schoolyard bully or teen suicide case.

I've seen the evidence again and again.  Proper home training can sharply reduce the odds that these one-cute little kids will turn out to be bullies and roving animals.

The growing public acceptance over the last few decades of things like unmarried cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, sleazy entertainment, gambling, recreational drugs -- well, the negative effects on children speak for themselves.  America continues to reap the bitter harvest; but it's not too late to turn things around -- or start to.

March 17, 2011 at 01:20 AM ·

ANd more hijacking of threads and holding them "unmarried cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births"mean bad parenting? ???? we go...ahh...forget it........Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,  your thread has gone off the rails through no fault of your own.... partly mine, to be sure...violin anyone?

March 17, 2011 at 02:53 AM ·

Sean -- no, not necessarily.  I've known some parents who did a commendable job and made good out of what looked like very unpromising situations at the start.  But these situations I named above definitely lengthen the odds against a happy, well-adjusted childhood.  People I know personally have shown clear evidence of this -- and they've told me that this is so, based on their own life experiences.

Personally condemning or ridiculing someone who hasn't measured up to what I know to be proper standards -- that's counterproductive; in fact, it's destructive.  But pointing out wrong from right, as I did, without getting personal, is certainly a right thing to do.
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Karen's recent input is a good starting point to get this thread back on track: "…prices [for concert tickets] should not be so high that they inhibit people on fixed incomes from coming (the families, seniors, etc. who make up our core audience)."

I'm also going to re-quote from Nick's input: "Most orchestras and arts organizations only derive a small percentage of their budget from ticket sales."

In light of this, let's suppose a 2,400-seat hall with an average ticket price of $50.  1,600 seats are empty; 800 are filled.  If cutting the average ticket price in half -- to $25 -- would result in, let's say, 2,000 seats filled, then the net intake would be $50K instead of $40K.

Not a huge difference -- but not insignificant, either.  Multiply one night's gain by five performances -- that's a gain of $50K.  If I knew -- or felt reasonably sure -- that I could get a result like this, I'd definitely go for the lower price.  And just look at how many more people would hear the music.

Speaking of kids: I definitely believe that families should feel freer to bring their kids -- and a reduced price for juniors doesn't seem out of order to me.  One strong caveat: Parents need to use discretion.  Each kid is different.  One child at 7 may be ready to sit through an orchestral program.  Another at the same age may not be ready.

March 17, 2011 at 03:31 AM ·

Jim -- I didn't mean to imply that you stating your view was inappropriate (especially in this thread, given its diverse subjects far, far away from the OP's topic).  I was just noting with some amusement that this wayward thread could have sprinted off in an entirely new direction, since what  you regard as "proper standards," and what you "know' to be right and wrong could possibly be construed as value judgements (rather than indisputable facts) that aren't necessarily shared by everyone --- in other words, potentially new fuel for this thread of Marsha's. 

March 17, 2011 at 04:57 AM ·

Sean, it's true that some in the audience won't share my views.  And this thread could have sprinted off in a new direction.  Part of me braced for it; I knew I might catch some cyber-shrapnel -- so far, that hasn't happened.

But, again, when a subject comes up that makes me take a stand, I try to proceed without getting personal, remembering what a radio pastor said several years ago: "Harsh words are like a killing frost.  The damage is done, no matter how much it warms up afterward."
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More on ticket prices -- going back to my first input in the thread: As an entrepreneur since 1996, I've been setting my rates somewhere in the middle.  I've been getting the jobs, while the high-priced guys miss out on some of them, and some of the low-priced folks aren't taken seriously.

Customers have told me: "Oh, your rates are very reasonable.  The guy I called before I called you -- he's asking two or three times that much.  Forget him; I'm going with you."

Or they'll say: "Well, this lady says she can do it for half the amount, but it doesn't sound like I'd be getting any real value by going with her.  Your plan sounds better."

Granted, I'm not in the music business, but my approach is something that I'm sure would carry over well.  Again, if a less-steep price will bring a net gain in ticket revenues and a wider audience, this sounds like a win-win to me.

March 17, 2011 at 08:57 PM ·

I agree with those that stated that $30 for a ticket isn't very much.  It's not.

However, we are lucky in that if we can't afford to go to a concert...we still have easy access to the music (cheap or free recordings, the internet, etc.).  People weren't so lucky in the 'pre-tech' days.

If you do want to see live performances - for less - consider recitals, performances at Universities (by students and/or alumni), etc.  The quality is often extraordinary - the venue is smaller (which I prefer) - I actually prefer these concerts over the 'professional' performances.

As far as allergies go...I can see it from both sides. I resent being told what I can/can't eat.  Yet, I have, as an adult, developed a seafood allergy.  I don't even have to eat the seafood...just breathing in oil droplets in the air will set me off.  So I have to avoid seafood restaurants - that's fine...but if we're a non-seafood restaurant I do get annoyed if the person I'm with just HAS to order something that may set me off.  Certainly, they have a right to eat what they want.  I just don't quite understand why...with all the options on the menu...they insist on eating something that may send me out of the restaurant to wait in the car...


March 17, 2011 at 10:51 PM ·

Well, if it's always about our own rights and never about having consideration for other people, that can make things complicated.  I feel like we could all (always) use a little more of the latter.

(And for a brief nod toward the original topic:  $30 for a ticket is not very much compared to how much it costs to put the concert on; but it can certainly be a lot compared to how much money I have until my next paycheck.  They're not setting their prices with the goal of keeping me out, and I'm not earning the amount of money I earn with the goal of depriving the symphony of my patronage.)

April 16, 2011 at 02:27 AM ·

Please see the article on the Eroica Ensemble and its director Michael Gilbert. The performances are free to the public. I attend the concerts regularly and the performances are very enjoyable and extremely professional and top quality.. The Eroica Ensemble bucks the trend of high priced tickets and exclusivity. If you are in west Tennessee please try to attend a performance. You will not be disappointed.

April 16, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

Between the time this thread began and the present date, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra filed for bankruptcy and is auctioning off its assets. It's gone and it's gone for good, buried under 5.5 million dollars in debt. The SSO musicians, who were already among the lowest-paid in the profession, made a number of concessions over the last two or three years in an effort to stave off the end. The straw that broke the camel's back was their refusal to accept a reduction in the size of the ensemble. I've said it before, but for many orchestras the short-term answer will be to downsize or die. Many of the orchestras in my region of New York, in Utica, Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, etc., are probably somewhere on the same continuum as the SSO was. It might be that half a loaf is better than none.

Decentralizing the arts does not necessarily mean that the street corners will be filled by busking symphony violinists playing for food. It might, in fact, mean more opportunities for more orchestras, but in smaller markets. Regional orchestras could combine periodically for the production of major works, and they could use the usual methods of finding corporate underwriters and individual philanthropists to cover the additional expenses. Should hard times come again, you might lose your donors, and you might lose your major performance opportunities, but you would not lose your orchestras.

I got a lump in my throat when I read that the performance of the YouTube Symphony was seen by more people than any public concert in history, including those of the megastar rock groups. Those straws in the air will tell us which way the wind in blowing.

April 16, 2011 at 03:22 PM ·

Since starting this thread I've learned a lot!  I contacted the local symphony orchestra, suggesting that they look into holding open rehearsals and charge a lower admission price than that of an actual "finished" performance.  I received a very nice letter from the executive director (who also "comped" me tickets for last Saturday night's concert!!), explaining that in having to staff the ticket office and provide ushers, there would be expenses to the orchestra -- I hadn't fully considered that.  In addition, there are usually contractual issues with guest artists that would eliminate public access to dress rehearsals.  Again, I hadn't thought of that.

I read through the concert program cover-to-cover, and was hit full-on by the realization of just how many people are involved in putting together an evening at the symphony.  I was also made aware of expenses that cover just getting the musicians together for rehearsals and performances.  The conductor of the little beginners' orchestra that I play in has driven to a distant city -- about 6 hours round-trip -- nearly every night this past week to play in rehearsals and this weekend's two concerts.  He's compensated for his mileage in getting there and back.  I'd never considered that as part of an orchestra's expenses.

So I've definitely backed off on my original position that orchestral ticket prices were being kept artificially high.  Now I'm wondering how they manage to accomplish as much as they do with the available funds!

P.S. -- The concert last Saturday night was excellent -- both inspirational and educational to this 60+ orchestral newbie!! 

April 18, 2011 at 12:52 AM ·

A couple of people have suggested cutting the size of the orchestra. Well, our local professional orchestra used to be "classical" in size, but it does severely limit the repertoire. Even if you want to do Beethoven 5, you need trombones. So, either you have trombones on the staff, and then keep them sitting around not playing for a lot of weeks - surely not a good idea, or you bring them in as needed. And that will probably involve travel and accomodation - a very expensive way of doing it. And audiences want to hear Brahms, Tchaikovsky etc. What most orchestras do is to cut down the number of strings. So you have 6 desks of firsts instead of the 8 you'd like. And everyone has to work harder to compete with the brass, and the sound goes. You can't ask the brass to tone it down, otherwise their sound changes.

Nowadays, I play with an amateur orchestra. Two of the biggest costs putting on a concert are hire of the hall and music hire. And these are pretty much the same for an amateur orchestra and a professional one.

Compared with the ticket prices my kids pay for "pop" performers in a large arena where you can be miles from the stage and with no acoustics, classical music is CHEAP.

April 18, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

Here's some news that ties into the discussion going on here.  It's sad to see this happening to the Philadelphia Orchestra and how the situation will affect all those involved with the organization:

Philadelphia Orchestra Makes Bankruptcy Move

I've never seen them perform, but my wife and I stopped by the Kimmel Center and explored a bit.  We went up to the atrium and snapped a few pictures.  I'd love to go back to Philly for a weekend and show my support by attending a performance since it is not too far from New York.

April 18, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

Malcolm makes the point that most orchestras reduce in size by reducing their string sections. In an orchestra, that is the last thing you'd want to do, not the first, but, frankly, the orchestra's options are limited in this respect. I have been a proponent of the New Violin Family for a long time for just this reason; because of the greater power and projection of New Family instruments, you can go from, say, six desks of first violins to five (or even to four) while still maintaining nearly the same level of acoustic power and balance with the winds. I have heard live orchestra performances where the addition of a single mezzo in the second violin section contributed audibly and unobtrusively. I think orchestras are probably too conservative and traditional to grab the rope when it is thrown to them, but there are other options to the all-or-nothing approach.

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