From a reader who prefers not to be named, a description of things that can keep people away from classical music:
I have read your blog for some time now because I love classical music and am the parent of a teenager who is an aspiring orchestral musician. As former southern Californians, we had many hours of pleasure attending concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Music Center and other So. Cal. venues in our time there.
Six years ago, we moved to Huntsville, AL. We bought season tickets to the Huntsville Symphony. Our experience started on a low note and has not changed a great deal until the present time. The concert hall is, to be frank, ugly and cold appearing. The foyers are dreary. The expensive seats that we had did not allow us to see all of the percussion section due to baffles that extend onto the stage. There were no cough drops at the entrance to quiet the continual hacking coughs that occur in an area where there’s lots of smoking and chronic allergies. We were 30 years younger than almost anyone sitting near us and the music was punctuated by snoring and comments such as “wake me when it’s over, etc.” Many seats around us were unfilled. The performances were only slightly more inspired than the setting.
Huntsville is a rapidly growing city with a highly-educated population (most moving from larger metropolitan areas). There are two youth orchestras (split 20 years ago because of disagreements) and there is no reconciliation between them even though neither one has enough players. The leaders of each are entrenched in maintaining the control they have. Meanwhile the young players suffer from a less than ideal situation. The symphony does not directly participate with either one.
The symphony should be expanding based on the growth in this area. The symphony staff, some of whom are longtime symphony musicians, have put the bulk of their effort into developing relationships with a chosen few patrons who may or may not give enough to subsidize the symphony in perpetuity.
Meanwhile, a large population with unknown, but potentially large assets, sits untapped and seats remain unfilled. It reminds me of a church we went to. It had approximately 20 members. Few members attended and the church staff seemed content with that. We were told that the church received enough funds from non-attending members or those who left money in their will, to not need to work to attract or maintain new members or to care whether seats were filled or not. While this may be effective in the short term, there is no way that it can be sustained over many years.
Huntsville has a dynamic new conductor. Unfortunately he is only here a few days out of the year. While he is away, the status quo continues. Though his programming and conducting are more appealing, it can not make up for the lack of relationship that the symphony has to the broader community.
This year we gave up our seats and have few plans to attend any of the concerts here. In the time that we have been here the symphony has has made little effort to establish a relationship with us. We were never approached directly to donate funds. The symphony seem to have chosen to focus their energy on a few select patrons and to neglect the larger potential audience. We have never been asked why we gave up our seats.
So, what do we do now? We travel to other cities, including back to CA, to attend concerts. We invest more in recorded music. We choose to use our resources more selectively. As our child looks at colleges next year, we will be looking to ensure that along with a music degree, he/she will get an education in leadership, management, and community relations that seems to be missing from our local symphony. After all, a future musician’s livelihood will depend on the whether attending classical concerts will matter to anyone in the future.