Making it work — being friendly

At the end of my last post, I was imagining an orchestra — or any other classical music performing group — that created some real sparks. And that made people eager to go to its performances. And, once they’d gone, to come back again.

A group like that might, I wrote, have people saying:

  • “I feel 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 people feeling these things, and saying them?

The welcome part should be easy.

  • At one of the first Baltimore Symphony concerts this year, Marin Alsop (who of course is the music director) and the musicians went out into the hall at intermission, to talk to people in the audience.
  • At the first concert of the Pacific Symphony’s season, the music director asked everyone who was there for the first time to raise their hands, then asked the frequent concertgoers to also raise their hands, and make friends with the newcomers.
  • And Stephen Osmond, at the Jackson Symphony’s first concert this year (which I was at), spoke from the stage before conducting. He asked both subscribers and newcomers to raise their hands, and then, talking to the subscribers, and indicating the newcomers, “These people are your new best friends.”
  • At Michael Christie’s first concert as music director of the Phoenix Symphony, he and the musicians stood outside the hall to welcome people coming in to hear them.
  • During Delta David Gier’s first season as music director of the South Dakota Symphony, he programed a lot of new music, and made himself available in the lobby of the hall after concerts, to talk to people about what the orchestra had played.

I’m sure that many, many more orchestras — and other performing institutions — have done something similar. Years ago (this memory just welled up) I saw La Bohème at the Annapolis Opera. During the crowd scene in the second act, the Annapolis High School band came on stage — with banners saying they were the Annapolis High School Band..That was adorable, and didn’t detract from the opera at all. The audience loved it.

Are these things hokey? Well, maybe not as hokey as Liszt touring Britain with a man who sang funny popular ballads, to make his concerts friendlier, and of course more lucrative (an example I bring up to show that doing things to please the audience isn’t something only people living now would stoop to).

(And then there’s E. M Forster’s adorable account of Lucia di Lammermoor, as performed around 1900 in a small Italian town. which you’ll find in his first novel, Where Angels Fear To Tread: “Families greeted each other across the auditorium. People in the pit hailed their brothers and sons in the chorus, and told them how well they were singing. When Lucia appeared by the fountain there was loud applause, and cries of ‘Welcome to Monteriano!'”)

Though probably the Cleveland Orchestra wouldn’t want to do the things I’ve listed. But in Jackson, the people in the hall clearly loved to be welcomed. Which I’ve been told was also true in Baltimore and Costa Mesa, where the Pacific Symphony plays.

Every classical music group can find its own way to welcome people. Though maybe, too, you don’t want to do the same thing at every concert. One big challenge, in fact, is to thread the welcome through an entire season, so it doesn’t grow stale, but instead (pick your metaphor) it takes root, or grows wings and flies.

(Another extension of this — one any major classical institution already does, or soon will, because it’s the coming thing — is CRM, Customer Relations Management, a fancy term for staying in touch with your customers. Or, in classical music’s case, with the members of your audience. Thanking them, keeping them informed, telling them things that interest them, offering them things they’ll like, asking what they think, listening to them. The benefits are obvious, not just commercially, but from a purely human point of view. Shouldn’t you want to get to know the people in your audience? They’re your biggest fans!)

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  1. says

    Right now, both large arts organizations and churches are nervous about losing their aging patrons and attracting young newcomers to keep their audiences/congregations vibrant. Arts organizations can learn a few tips from what has worked in churches:

    -Ask some of your subscribers or frequent patrons to be greeters on the night they attend. As the audience enters, the greeters can identify and befriend newcomers, and be approachable resources.

    -Host informal get-togethers before or after the main event that allow people to mingle, sometimes with an interesting speaker or discussion topic to break the ice.

    -Invite people to make your organization a regular part of their lives by involving them in yours: invite first-time ticket buyers to an open rehearsal, have a birthday sing-along for a board member or long-time subscriber at your event, or blog about how you make programming choices.

    I’m thrilled to see that arts organizations are becoming more personable. Creating community starts with being human.

  2. Robert Bonotto says

    I read somewhere –perhaps in Brian Large’s bio of him– that at performances of one of Smetana’s more serious operas the intermissions were taken up with performances by a one-legged dancer and a performing bear.

    But that may be going too far in the wrong direction….

  3. says

    I’m marketing director for a off-off broadway theater in Astoria.

    Making sure people know they are welcome and that we’re thankful they are there is high priority.

    For us it starts with our email communications. Our regulars receive personal updates from us. And newcomers also receive personal emails before the show with ideas of what to do in the neighborhood.

    I’m also at the door to greet people when they show up. At that point many people feel like they know me already because they’re meeting the guy from the email.

    People have written to commend us on how welcomed they have felt.

    In my view this experience is key in creating situations where they tell their friends and want to come back and see us again.

    Part of this is customer service. Just treat people right when they show up. Be grateful they’re there. Because there are a million other things they could be doing.