Things that worked

Worked, that is, to reach an orchestra’s community. Or simply to make an orchestra more attractive to people who might go to its concerts. A solutions post. And also a crosspost from the League of American Orchestras Orchestra R/Evolution blog.

Play music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers.

Delta David

Gier did this in his first season as music director of the South Dakota

Symphony. He wanted to play new music, a lot of it, but understood that

his audience might not be as excited about that as he was. So he got the

idea of featuring, on each concert, music by a composer who’d won the

Pulitzer Prize. He thought that his audience would talk the Pulititzers

seriously, and say, in effect, “This composer won this major prize! We’d

better listen carefully.”

And that’s exactly what happened. After each concert, David stood in

the lobby, to talk to anyone who wanted to talk with him. The response

was positive, even if people didn’t like a particular piece. He made new

music a central part of what the South Dakota Symphony did.

(Full disclosure. David is a friend, commissioned a piece from me,

and played another one I’ve written. But all that happened after his

Pulitzer success. In fact, we know each other because of what he did

with his Pulitzer concerts. To spread the word, he contacted many

people, me among them. We had lunch one day in New York, so he could

tell me what he’d done, and our friendship grew up afterwards.)

Offer child care at concerts (and more)

The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, in Houston, has offered child care at its concerts. The concerts have

started at 5 PM, and the child care continues after the concert into the

evening. Couples with children can come, drop off their children, hear

the concert, and then go out for dinner.

And the children have been involved with the music. They’ve been

taught to sing part of one piece on the program, and before that piece,

they’re brought into the concert space, where they sing what they’ve


ROCO also has picked a few tickets at random, and invited the people

who hold those tickets to sit in the middle of the orchestra to hear the


In these two ways, and more, ROCO has made a name for itself in

Houston, and developed a loyal and enthusiastic audience (Though the

high quality of their playing doesn’t hurt. Musicians from all over the

US come to play in ROCO’s concerts.)

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