So how (picking up from my last post) would an orchestra — or any classical music institution — connect more vividly to its community?
I don’t claim to have answers. And even if I thought I knew some things that definitely work, I’d never offer a recipe. Institutions differ. They might not all feel comfortable doing everything that I or anybody else might suggest. And communities differ, too.
(And then, within any given place, there’s surely more than one community, more than one subculture in your town that you might connect with. That’s something we in classical music don’t always remember. We talk about “the audience” as if it was one thing, and always the same. They don’t make that mistake in pop. They know that different artists attract different audiences, that a classic rocker won’t draw the same crowd as an R&B star or an indie band. This is something classical music should learn about, and see how many different audiences it can learn to find. I’ll note this for future reference, but not say any more about it just now.)
There’s something else important, too. People locally will have ideas of their own, many of them better than mine.
But here’s pme basic principle. Let’s say you work with an orchestra. What do the people in your town — the ones who aren’t your subscribers, who don’t know classical music well — think the orchestra does? They think it plays classical music.
And of course they’re right. And most of them think that playing classical music is a good thing. They like classical music. They think it sounds nice. They’ll tell you, if you ask them, that they’d love to go to a concert sometime. But for many of them, maybe most, sometime never comes. Or comes rarely. Or comes once — this is the dreaded “churn,” as orchestras in the US have come to call it — but never comes again. People finally do go to a concert, like it, and think they should go sometime again, but never do.
Most orchestra advertising that I’ve seen doesn’t help with this. Take the New York Philharmonic, which I notice because it’s my hometown orchestra, though I could just as well pick my other hometown orchestra these days, the National Symphony in Washington. “Alan Gilbert Conducts Mahler,” says the headline of an ad. Which says exactly what the readers of the ad — except the experts — already know. At every concert, somebody — probably a name that might not mean much to most people — conducts music by famous classical composers, Mahler being one of them. Very nice, but why should that grab my attention?
(Caveat: I know that in the past, at least, these ads would bring in people who knew the names — soloists, conductors, composers. But I’m talking here about the new audience, the wider community that so many of us want to reach. These ads don’t help much with that.)
So how do we change this perception? Or rather broaden it. How do we move beyond people saying, “Oh, the orchestra is nice. I went to a concert once. The music was lovely”? And instead say, “It was unforgettable. I’ve got to go again. And you [talking to a friend] should go, too. Let’s go this weekend!”
I imagine that people who’d say that might also say:
- “I feel so welcome when I go to concerts.”
- “There’s a feeling of excitement coming off the stage.”
- “I’m always surprised by what they do.”
- “The orchestra cares about things that I care about.”
- “I can’t wait to go again. I know that something fabulous will happen, even if I can’t say what.”
- “I can tell that there’s excitement here, even if I’m just walking past the concert hall.”
So how do we get there? More in my next post.