Friday, November 23, 2012

Rethinking the Concert Experience.

It's pretty crazy how sometimes out of nowhere a conversation can make a tremendous impact on you.  A few years ago I was starting a new job and in my first couple of weeks I did a lot of explaining what exactly it is that a music student does all day, let alone what I was planning on doing the rest of my life.  So I was talking to one of my coworkers (who I'm still friends with, and wouldn't even remember this conversation) and we got to talking about music.  While we were talking, he mentioned to me that he loves listening to classical music and would love to go to a concert, but would never consider going to a concert!


That blew my mind.  Of course I had to ask why and he proceeded to explain and give the same reasons many non-classical music lovers give as to why they've never been to see a live performance of the local orchestra.  This conversation made a totally unexpected impression on me that has stuck with me ever since.

This got me thinking about why classical music so unappealing to so many people.  I have come to a lot of different conclusions over the years, but for now I'd like to just focus on just a few ideas that I have had about what organizations can do to not only welcome new concert-goers, but make the entire experience more engaging and inviting for the entire audience.

Before you get to your seats
Most of us probably don't even realize that how much we've already gone through before the concert even starts.  Waiting in line to pick up your tickets, finding the door to your section, looking for the coat check/bathrooms, physically find your seats and anything else that can happen are all things that all go in to the experience.  I have been to some events where the process has always been smooth and comfortable.  But on the other hand, I've also had a lot of bad experiences with ushers, people in the ticket windows, or not knowing exactly where to go.

Not everything that goes in to the concert experience is in the hands of the orchestra.  But what if more of it were?  I think we've all had to deal with a douchey usher at some point or another when asking a question.  Think of how cool it would be if an hour before the concert started a handful of orchestra members or staff were in the lobby answering questions and interacting with audience members.  If I went to the Philly Orchestra for the first time and could have my question about seating, the hall, program, or whatever answered by one of the musicians performing, that would make a huge impact on me.  It would make think that this organization really cared about me.  After all, the money I spent on tickets does contribute a significant amount to the revenue of the organization and their livelihoods.

Draw the audience into the music
Some orchestras do this better than others from my experience, but as whole, the performance as a whole can loose a lot of people's attention when the music isn't happening.  A lot of what happens once the lights go down in the hall can be very foreign to those that haven't experienced it before (and even those that have judging from how many people I see asleep at some concerts...).  There is a lot of dead space in our current concert experience.  Some of the space is necessary, but some of that time could be utilized to engage the audience with what is happening/going to happen on the stage.

Breaking down the barrier between the performers and audience members would do a world of good when it comes to bringing them to the world of music.  Occasionally I have been to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts when one of the musicians will talk about a piece or something before the tuning begins.  I think this is great because it does make them seem like normal people (which they are!) to the audience members that may have never even seen an oboe.  But I think it would be even cooler if after the conductor came out, he turned around and welcomed the audience to the performance and said a quick something about the piece, the city, or the orchestra.  Conductors are portrayed as these god-like figures in the classical music world and I think it would be really awesome to have them break down the barrier a bit by reaching out to the audience members and personally thanking them for their support of the orchestra.

And just one more quick thought about linking these two ideas together.  What if each concert had some way of bringing the music alive for the audience members to physically experience something that inspired a composition or the performance?  Just off the top of my head, one example could be applied to a performance of Pictures at an Exhibition.  What if an orchestra actually set up a display of the paintings that inspired Mussorgsky to compose this work in the lobby.  Instead of just reading dry/academic concert notes in the program the audience could read about it and be invited by the conductor or musicians to check out the paintings in the lobby before, during, or after the concert and experience what Mussorgsky did before composing this landmark piece.

It wouldn't take much to implement some of these (or similar) ideas into the concert experience and I think it would make a huge difference to the audience if organizations put some attention to detail and creativity into how their product is presented to their supporters.  I think ideas like these are what would make the idea of attending a performance of classical music not only more appealing to potential new patrons, but more engaging to the existing audience.  Perhaps some day my friend will become a supporter of the local orchestra.  I will do my best to get him to join me soon.

This certainly isn't the last time I will touch on this topic.  I'd love to hear your insights and thoughts on this.

If you're particularly interested, hear are some other posts that inspired me to write this:
Drew McManus at Adaptistration
Joe Patti at Butts in Seats
Sharon Torello at LocalArtsLive

As always, thanks for reading and I hope you'll join in the conversation.


1 comment:

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