Growing the audience for classical music

Growing the audience for classical music

Angela Mitchell
on Jan 09, 2017

People have been claiming that classical music is dying for hundreds of years now, and yet, the art form persists. However, we should still be concerned: the National Endowment for the Arts reported that in 2012, only 8.8% of Americans had attended a classical music performance in the previous 12 months, compared to 11.6% a decade earlier. Clearly, the big problem facing nearly every organization is how to attract younger audience members.

Orchestras and opera companies have been trying everything: last-minute tickets (appealing to impulsive young folks), shorter concerts, later start times, unusual venues and “taster” experiences, where people can drop in and out at their leisure. They've also embraced 21st-century technology to provide online streaming of live concerts, allowing theatres to reach out to far-away audiences.

 

One of the newest trends is to bring social media right into the concert hall. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has offered "tweet seats" from which patrons can carry on digital conversations during concerts. Opera Omaha, the San Francisco Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Pacific Symphony and the Dayton Opera have all tried this as well. Advocates say these efforts could help make concerts feel more welcoming and interactive; skeptics wonder if social media and other technology will become a distraction.

Conversation Starter

How can the classical music industry attract a younger crowd without alienating its core audience?

Participants (18) See All

What do you think?

Anonymous
on 2017-10-21T19:30:26+00:00
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Angela Mitchell
on Feb 27, 2017
"Hello Steve! Thank you for contributing your thoughts to the conversation. I'm glad you brought..."
Steve Rieker
on Feb 23, 2017
"Forgive me for sounding a discouraging tone when what you asked for is positive suggestions...."
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 22, 2017
"I agree, Nathan! "
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 22, 2017
"Thanks for your comments, Steve. That sounds like a fascinating read. There are so many examples..."
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 22, 2017
"Thanks for joining the conversation, Andy! Your comments brought to mind a program that WCLV..."
Nathan Delaney
on Feb 20, 2017
"I completely agree. I am also a "young audience member" and I attend classical/composed music..."
Steve Rieker
on Feb 19, 2017
"Am currently reading Joseph Horowitz excellent " Classical Music in America-A History of Its Rise..."
Andy Pallotta
on Feb 08, 2017
"I do not think that catering to the apparent interests and attitudes of young people (e.g. social..."
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 07, 2017
"Thanks for your comment, Gretchen. Do you think that there should be individual/foundation..."
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 07, 2017
"Hi Susan! Thanks for your comments. The original idea for "tweet seats" was to have a separate..."
Susan J. Hill  Brown
on Feb 07, 2017
"Please no tweeting, texting at a concert.  Yes, younger people need to grow an appreciation for..."
Gretchen Reynolds
on Feb 05, 2017
"I have read all of the responses so far and applaud each of them and the creative ideas shared. I..."
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 03, 2017
"Hi Nancy, thanks for these comments. I think we've all been in concerts where a cell phone has..."
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 03, 2017
"Thank you for these comments, fellow young person! :) The Cleveland Orchestra has had some major..."
Kacie Burton
on Feb 03, 2017
"I happen to be a member of the younger audience to whom concert halls are trying to appeal...."
Nancy  Aikins
on Feb 01, 2017
"I believe a younger set can be attracted most by personal invitation to concerts. As they attend,..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 30, 2017
"Thank you for your thoughts, Paul! It's great to hear from someone in the industry. "
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 30, 2017
"Thanks for these comments, Robert. Social media can absolutely be used to drum up excitement for..."
Robert Saber
on Jan 28, 2017
"Severance Hall is not the inside of a Rapid Transit car where boredom can be alleviated by having..."
Paul Bunker
on Jan 27, 2017
"As someone who spent almost 30 years in symphony orchestra management, I've seen everything..."
Justin Hartley
on Jan 26, 2017
"Angela- I have not, but I would love to. I will certainly be on the lookout. I was not aware of..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 25, 2017
"What a great suggestion! I know that some orchestras are already starting to do this. Have you..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 25, 2017
"I totally agree that it's important to present music by living composers alongside the classic..."
Justin Hartley
on Jan 25, 2017
"The classical music industry could attract a younger crowd by incorporating orchestral music from..."
Sean Williams
on Jan 24, 2017
"Without some sort of means for younger listeners to appreciate the importance of classical music,..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 24, 2017
"So many great points, Patricia! I completely agree that we should not change the MUSIC itself. It..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 24, 2017
"Great comments, Linda. The music itself is not the problem, and the industry should never dumb..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 24, 2017
"I agree that music should be taught in school! Though I am a member of the younger generation..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 24, 2017
"Great comments, Jan. Do you think that these things need to be taught at home, in school, or a..."
Angela Mitchell
on Jan 24, 2017
"Love this idea. Thank you for sharing! "
Steve Rieker
on Feb 23, 2017 - 2:32 am

Forgive me for sounding a discouraging tone when what you asked for is positive suggestions. Perhaps it was something I ate. BTW, I spent a two decades working overnight as a radio engineer, so you have an empathetic supporter who enjoys your show. Tough to break out of the overnight mode and become a morning person once you've lived it.

Back to the subject at hand, growing the young audience. I have an anecdotal experience. Myself and two other radio engineers, one young and one middle-aged were experimenting with delivering music by internet stream one day to see how the quality held up going through various digital interfaces. I have a CD of the Resphigi Roman trilogy (The Pines, Fountains, and Festivals) which was selected for the stream tests for its fidelity and dynamic range. We listened for hours with different settings and signal paths. Neither of these men were classical music listeners, yet at dinner they wanted to know about the music and where they could get the CD. I unwittingly pulled a " gimmick " on them with a surprising outcome.

So I applaud the creative outreaches in Cleveland and Chcago by the orchestras and the arts communities. However, I'm thinking that a grass-roots effort by classical music lovers in conjunction with industry (orchestras, record labels, radio stations) endeavors will have the greatest chance of success. Your effort to generate ideas and discussion is in that vein.

An idea, if not already expressed, is that records and turntables are making an astounding comeback, particularly among the young. Something appealing about handling artistic record jackets and watching the disc rotate on the platter. Kind of like watching trains- you can't explain it but it never gets old. My Dad's record jackets, particularly one with the dour visage of Rachmaninoff staring out at our living room had an unforgettable impact on a child. Perhaps gifting children with an appropriate record player with some carefully chosen classsical records, cleverly mixed in with their already expressed favorites in other genres might provide the Genesis moment we're hoping for. One example is the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra which almost no one, including myself, ever heard of before seeing 2001:A Space Odyssey. Or movie DVDs with a classical sound-track.

Also, many seniors as myself have classical record collections from the Golden Age and ponder what will happen to them once we are gone. I've considered willing them to the local library, but they are rented mostly by retirees, at least here in FL. The idea of them going to an estate sale or flea market is depressing. If only there was some conduit for getting these recordings into kid's hands. Ideas, anyone ??

Angela, thanks for your part in leading the effort.

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 27, 2017

Hello Steve! Thank you for contributing your thoughts to the conversation. I'm glad you brought up record players. As a matter of fact, I got my husband a turntable for Christmas, so at least in our home, records will experience that comeback you speak of (we're in our 30s). I agree that there's something special about listening to music on vinyl. Last Christmas, while visiting my parents, my dad busted out his old collection of Beatles records. While listening to Abbey Road, a record that I had listened to countless times in digital form, I heard things that I had never heard before! It was definitely a different, and possibly enhanced, way to listen to music. 

 
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Steve Rieker
on Feb 19, 2017 - 1:37 am

Am currently reading Joseph Horowitz excellent " Classical Music in America-A History of Its Rise and Fall ". Such a resource helps put the trajectory of classical music in America's culture into better perspective. In 1850, P. T. Barnum created a barnstorming tour featuring the " Swedish Nightingale " Jenny Lind across America. Yes, that P. T. Barnum. In Boston, New York, and later Chicago, orchestra building took place, with some well advised and ill-advised events. Mr. Horowitz chronciles the astonishing tsunami of Wagner washing onto our shores. But he also emphasizes how the cult of personality played a large part in the selelction of conductors and repertoire. The rise to fame of Toscannini, Stokowski, Rachmaninoff, and susequently Bernstein offer evidence that the star system governed classical music then as it does today. A second, but not less significant factor, is that the great bulk of the classical repertoire is European, musically, culturally, and ethnically. It's not nor will ever be our music, as opposed to jazz, swing, or rock. As time passes, a culture which is increasingly parochial and oblivious to world history, will lose interest and any affinity for other cultures. I regularly watch concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic through their subscription service, and sense that despite the presence of star soloists and conductors, the music itself is the focus, having deep meaning to those audiences whose heritage it is. One encouraging trend is the number of classical streams available on the web- if only we could get the kids to tune into them. Getting kids to a concert used to be enough to get some hooked. Sadly, I don't see any at the concert halls in Tampa or Sarasota. Perhaps gimmicks are the last resort. Wish I could be more optimistic.

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 22, 2017

Thanks for your comments, Steve. That sounds like a fascinating read. There are so many examples one can point to of classical music not reaching younger audiences. However, there are just as many success stories. To point to one Cleveland example, an organization called Classical Revolution Cleveland regularly perfoms in non-traditional venues for non-traditional crowds. I attended one of these performances myself lasts night, and it was standing room only. Here's an article about what they're doing:  http://clevelandclassical.com/classical-revolution-cleveland-out-of-the-concert-hall-and-into-the-neighborhood/

 
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Andy Pallotta
on Feb 08, 2017 - 8:39 pm

I do not think that catering to the apparent interests and attitudes of young people (e.g. social media, impulsiveness) would help reach them with classical music. The problem is that classical music is not "popular," and young people are not exposed to it in a positive way. Their main exposure to it is through films, and it is almost always in the background.

What I think is needed is exposure for younger audiences to become interested in and appreciative of classical music. I imagine a Bill Nye style YouTube show in which an engaging presenter explores music from popular films like Frozen, and explains (with genuine enthusiasm) why the music is so important and emotionally rich, and what connections it has to famous composers and music history. Kids can spot a phony a mile away, so the show would have to come from the heart and have an infectious love for this fundamental form of art.What matters is not what young people like, but why they like it. If classical music can capture some of that, it could have a resurgence.

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 22, 2017

Thanks for joining the conversation, Andy! Your comments brought to mind a program that WCLV produced about a year ago, having to do with the music of Star Wars. Check it out: http://wclv.ideastream.org/wclv/star-wars-the-score-awakens

 
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Susan J. Hill  Brown
on Feb 07, 2017 - 8:31 am

Please no tweeting, texting at a concert.  Yes, younger people need to grow an appreciation for classical music.  The best way to do this is to attend concerts, LISTEN and, if anything else, watch the moves of the conductor and faces of the musicians.  Let the younger people get together after the concert and talk about their impressions.  Even then, they might even be sitting right next to someone and the two will be texting each other instead of having a real conversation.

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 07, 2017

Hi Susan! Thanks for your comments. The original idea for "tweet seats" was to have a separate section for people who would be using their mobile devices during the concert, so they would not disturb others in the hall who are NOT sitting in the tweet seats. Given that, do you see any value at all in letting people (not necessarily even young people) share their impressions on social media during a concert? 

 
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Gretchen Reynolds
on Feb 05, 2017 - 6:16 pm

I have read all of the responses so far and applaud each of them and the creative ideas shared. I would add one additional encouragement -focus on  keeping the foundation and individiual support flowing for music in the schools programs where kids learn the life long joy of partipating and appreciating through our exceptional music and arts programs. Also out of school programs such as Music Settlement, El Sistema, Karamu, and many others. 

 

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 07, 2017

Thanks for your comment, Gretchen. Do you think that there should be individual/foundation support in public schools, as well? Or should the taxpayer dollars that support these schools be allocated a bit more to the music programs? 

 
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Kacie Burton
on Feb 03, 2017 - 8:14 am

I happen to be a member of the younger audience to whom concert halls are trying to appeal. Personally, I do not believe in catering to youthful obsessions by allowing "tweet seats." I think that the youth needs to get their faces out of their phones, not be encouraged to do so. These seats would only distract the whole audience from enjoying the music. Furthermore, my friends and I really enjoyed watching the Cleveland Orchestra play the film score to Indiana Jones at Blossom one evening. Student tickets are a fabulous idea. 

 

Responses(3)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 03, 2017

Thank you for these comments, fellow young person! :) The Cleveland Orchestra has had some major success with these film projects, and I hope to see them continue. I think they're a great way to get people in the door. In your experience, do people that attend the film concerts feel compelled to then come to regular subscription concerts by TCO? 

 
Nathan Delaney
on Feb 20, 2017

I completely agree. I am also a "young audience member" and I attend classical/composed music shows once a month. Personally, I find the experience exceedingly refreshing because of its contrast from the "twitter world" experience. I think if classical music institutions stays earnestly focused on producing exceptional music, you will find that in the long and middle term more and more young people will seek it out. Beethoven and Chopin never tire, no matter what a person's age!

 
Angela Mitchell
on Feb 22, 2017

I agree, Nathan! 

 
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Nancy  Aikins
on Feb 01, 2017 - 1:14 pm

I believe a younger set can be attracted most by personal invitation to concerts. As they attend, they can learn the traditional etiquette expected for concerts, rather than the core audience having to deal with electronics in the concert hall. I would be horrified to attend, only having to be distracted by phones or tablets. I already want to tear my hair out at home because my young people want to look at that stuff all the time. They need to live in the 3-dimensional world more, and this is the time. They can live without it for 3 hours. I hope we never introduce these things in Cleveland. Young people can also be more a part of classical music by preparing them at home with listening games (name that composer/time-period/country) as well as tours of Severance to gain their interest more. They will thank us eventually.

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Feb 03, 2017

Hi Nancy, thanks for these comments. I think we've all been in concerts where a cell phone has gone off, and it really spoils the atmosphere for everyone. It would be challenge for any orchestra allowing tweet seats to make sure that there is no noise emanating from the section. I'm not sure how to get people to look at their phones less, though. 

 
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Robert Saber
on Jan 28, 2017 - 9:04 pm

Severance Hall is not the inside of a Rapid Transit car where boredom can be alleviated by having a wi-fi connection. Diversions and distractions on social media are not likely to be a long-term remedy for the ageing of classical music audiences. After the concert ends, it would be fine if attendees tweeted their friends telling them how wonderful it was. Perhaps they and their accompanying friends would all be at the next concert. I believe William Crew is on the right track for a solution; however, it is apt to be not a short-term one. Musical education has almost completely disappeared from grammar and high schools. People nowadays grow up without exposure to classical music, its beauty, its complexity and its challenges. If musical education were brought back for young, young people, they stand a chance to have it become an essential part of their lives forever. Otherwise, they may not ever understand it and will be oblivious of what they are missing.

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Jan 30, 2017

Thanks for these comments, Robert. Social media can absolutely be used to drum up excitement for a concert, but I think it would be a tough sell to start letting that happen DURING a concert. 

I was lucky enough to attend schools that had strong music programs, and it breaks my heart to know that fewer and fewer children are getting those opportunities anymore. How can we get music back in the schools? 

 
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Paul Bunker
on Jan 27, 2017 - 11:09 pm

As someone who spent almost 30 years in symphony orchestra management, I've seen everything regarding how to attract young audiences.  The fact is, the concert hall is designed to listen to classical music without distractions of any kind whatsoever, period.  The Cleveland Orchestra has done an outstanding job in expanding its musical output to include movies accompanied by the orchestra, special events and speical short concerts with food and liquor afterwards.  Why would anyone pay money to sit in a warm dark room playing with their I-Phone while listening to a great orchestra. There is no such thing as multitasking - the brain can focus on one thing only at one time.  This idea from the Cincinnati Symphony is asinine, but, hell, give it a whirl.  Just don't expect results. 

 

Responses(1)

Angela Mitchell
on Jan 30, 2017

Thank you for your thoughts, Paul! It's great to hear from someone in the industry. 

 
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Justin Hartley
on Jan 25, 2017 - 11:27 am

The classical music industry could attract a younger crowd by incorporating orchestral music from video games and movies into the program. Video games especially seem to be the new frontier for classical/orchestral music, as the technology has been rapidly advancing, video game scores are no longer 8-bit beeps and boops, but lush and complex pieces played by real orchestras. Furthermore, this is music that many younger people grew up with and represents an important part of their generation's contribution to popular culture.

Some examples of games with great scores are The Legend of Zelda games, Skyrim, Halo, Mass Effect, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, and many others.  These pieces could be paired with traditional concert hall staples that are similar in style, thus exposing both young and old to music they may not be familiar with.

 

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