The Music Plays On

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If I take a step back and try my best to look at classical music concerts through the eyes of someone who may have never played an instrument, or who doesn’t know much of anything at all about classical music, I am convinced that we are, unintentionally, alienating and making EVERY new audience member feel stupid. This must be true considering that upwards of 90% of first-time concert-goers don’t return.

Audience members are going to capture video/audio snippets of orchestral concerts, whether we want them to or not. It’s how we decide to respond that matters, and whether or not we choose to use this as an opportunity to connect with an audience that we have traditionally been so poor at capturing. I recently attended an open dress rehearsal where a staff member tried to give a very stern, rude, and Draconian speech to the very excited audience that they were to NOT, under any circumstances, take any photos or videos. This was the orchestra's welcome message to this wonderful group of folks! If I hadn't been a guest of this orchestra, I would've left at that point. However, someone showed up a few minutes late, sat in the front row, promptly pulled out her phone and started taking photos and videos, clearly excited that she was there for something very special. This made me smile from ear to ear, mostly because she was having such a great time, but secondly because I was interested to see how the organization, on stage and off, was going to handle it. She was kindly asked by that same staff member to stop using her phone. She put the phone away and still had a great time.

We must do so much better at communicating with our concert goers, during and especially leading up to a concert experience. The lady with the phone will return because she had a direct and kind interaction with a staff member, and didn’t have to be subjected to the schoolmarm speech by that same staff member just 15 minutes earlier.

I recently visited an orchestra’s website whose largest message on their homepage was a non-cognate term in Italian. Why, when 80% of web traffic to an orchestra’s website are new visitors and not returning customers, are there any words in a foreign language, let alone the primary message of the orchestra’s homepage? It also took me six clicks to buy a ticket, which makes applying for a $100,000 loan online easier than it is for me to buy a ticket to a symphony concert!

Like shushing a fellow concert goer who is clapping between movements, which enforces a contrived 20th century convention, a musician stopping in mid concerto to chastise a concert goer for using their phone is completely unacceptable.