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July 24, 2006

The challenge for orchestras

by Lowell Noteboom

While reliable statistics may be elusive, no one has put forth a credible argument that there has been a real decline in the percentage of the population that appreciates the classical music art form, broad as that category may be. Most polls and surveys suggest that number has remained fairly constant over the years and is in the 10-12% range.

What has changed dramatically, of course, is the way in which the consumers are accessing and enjoying the music. For those of us who worry about this on behalf of professional orchestras and the challenges presented to them by these changes in consumer patterns and preferences (I am in my sixth year as Chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra), innovation and experimentation are critical. You all know the old joke that defines insanity as doing the same old thing in the same old way, over and over again, and expecting a different result. America's orchestras are recognizing, some sooner and better than others, that, while change can be scary, status quo is scarier.

The question, of course, is what to change and how to change it. Who decides? What if it fails? How do we assess the risk? How can we fix what's broken without dumbing down the product? At the SPCO we know that what happens on stage is what matters most. It's still all about the music. But we also know that it's more than that.

As the blog continues, I hope we can talk about how organizations that perform classical music can understand all the dynamics and ingredients well enough to know what is at the heart of truly engaging our audiences, whether they are in the hall for the live performance, listening in on the radio, podcasts, etc., listening to live streaming, etc. How do we make it the very best it can be? How do we collect and respond to their feedback? How do we convert them from casual listeners and single-ticket buyers to first-time subscribers? And from there to second-, third-, and fourth-year subscribers (once they do it four years in a row, they're usually hooked)?

How do we convert them from loyal subscribers to become donors and eventually true patrons of the orchestra?

I look forward to your perspectives.

Lowell Noteboom

Posted by lnoteboom at July 24, 2006 12:34 AM


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