Another Maryland success

John Devlin is, along with Michael Jacko, co-conductor of UMRO — the University of Maryland Repertoire Orchestra. (The school seems to specialize in baffling acronyms.) 

This is a group made up of students who aren’t music majors, who play concerts of symphonic repertoire in casual dress, with great success. (Check out the performance of Beethoven’s Seventh on John’s website.) 

John supports my Maryland project with great enthusiasm, and in fact was the source of some of the ideas that helped UMSO (the Symphony Orchestra) and UMWO (the Wind Orchestra) attract so many new people to their first concerts this year. (See what I mean about the acronyms?) 

For the first UMRO concert, he…but let him tell the tale himself. Here’s an email he sent me, which I’m posting of course with his permission:

Dear Greg,

Thank you for all of your help leading up to our first Repertoire Orchestra concert on Monday evening. Several of the ideas that we had discussed at our initial UMRO meeting worked quite well and I wanted to give you an update about what was done… and the perceived result.

– We ticketed this concert. Previously, the events had not required tickets. [Because the concerts were free.] We distributed 500 tickets through UMRO members to their families and friends and we had our largest audience ever. In fact, originally we had closed the balcony and at 5pm the lower-level seats were all taken and we had to open the upper levels. We felt that ticketing benefited us in two main ways: 1) We have the email address of everyone who went to the box office for tickets. We will send a thank you and a followup to these people. 2) The tickets serve as a very effective invitation to the concert for all who receive one from a player in the orchestra. It has the name of the group, date/time, location of concert etc. People feel much more compelled to show up, I think, if they have a physical ticket.

– At the beginning of the second half, I spoke briefly to the audience. I welcomed them, asked if they had been with us before and encouraged them to come back. Then, for Eric Nathan’s piece, we showed a pre-recorded video that outlined the piece and that we hoped would enhance the listening experience. After the piece, Eric came on stage and answered questions from the audience. Also, in the lobby before the concert and during intermission, we looped videos of mechanical sculptures that had inspired Eric’s composition.

– At intermission, we had a ragtime orchestra, made up of UMRO members, perform in the lobby.

– We wrote two sets of program notes that were included in the programs. One that were written by the conductors that were lighthearted and casual. In these notes, we talked about our personal experiences with the pieces and the process of working on the piece with UMRO. We then had musicology students write more formal program notes that were included next to our own.

We felt that these were subtle enhancements to a concert that came off very successfully.

Next: John’s email to the new people who came.

And note the brilliant idea — to require tickets. Might seem, at first, like an obstacle, something that makes it harder to attend. But as John explained, the tickets serve as both an invitation and a reminder. Members of the orchestra invited people all over campus, in their classes, their dorms, wherever. As soon as anyone said yes, they’d like to come, they got a ticket. Which made it far more likely, John thinks (and I agree) that they’d actually show up. Terrific planning, John!

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  1. ken nielsen says

    A nice story.

    It’s good to see that your work is encouraging people to do things/try things.

    Businesses experiment all the time but arts organisations are often reluctant. Dunno why…

    What I like about what UMRO did was that is engaged with the audience and, by getting contacts, made continuing engagement possible.

  2. says

    Wow–who would have thought that requiring tickets would increase attendance? Not me. Now that I think of it, and what little I’ve read of marketing, it makes sense. Increases the perception of value and (possible) scarcity. Takes an effort to get a ticket, so there’s been an action of commitment (or quasi-commitment).

    Sounds like it was a great event.

    I’m thinking about a place such as DePauw, where I teach. With 75-90 events a semester, distributing tickets for every event would be a challenge. But it is certainly worth rethinking, especially for the more important (collectively speaking) events, such as large ensemble concerts and guest artists.

  3. says

    If tickets were given away by members of the orchestra, how was the email collection facilitated? Did patrons have to exchange a ticket voucher or something at the box office and, at that point, give out their contact info?

  4. Jing Qian says

    Hello. I am a student at The Hague Univeristy.I saw this blog when I was doing research about my topic that “how can the concertgebouw extend its audiences by stimulating their interest in classical music” with my group.The Dutch term “concertgebouw” literally translates into English as “concert building” is based in Amsterdam and its main performances are classical music. As far as we know that the downturn of classical music industry has impacted the audience attendance of concertgehouw.Young generations are losing interests in classical music is also a potential issue that concertgebouw may lose audience in future.

    We are now doing desk reseaches about the dutch music industry and also making interviews with the communication manager of Concertgebouw. We are wondering if it is possible for you to have a online interview, or e-mail conversation with us. As we found that you already did some researches on Dutch classical music industry, we would like to ask you for more opinions and information.

    Thank you so much.