Saturday, December 1, 2007

Can you change your "taste" to like classical music?

In a recent post on Sticks and Drones titled "Yo!!..We put the ASS back in clASSical", Ron Spigelman, Artistic Director of the Springfield Missouri Symphony Orchestra rants on the current trends to attract a younger audience to the concert hall.

A few of the tricks I've seen used out west are memberships to an exclusive club for those who are under 25 years old, which include less-expensive tickets, and free pizza and pop during intermission. There was also an attempt made by our local opera company for people to "Come see opera in your Jeans". Spigleman writes of billboards that try to appeal to a younger generation "Try a few "bars" tonight" and "Ear Candy", and the examples go on, and are present in just about every "fine" arts organizations, and probably come up at every annual general meeting of all symphonies, choirs, art galleries, and theatre groups. The main flaw, essentially, as Spigleman points out is that the "product" does not change - once you have them in their seats, full of pizza and pop, it isn't going to make them suddenly love Tchaikovsky! Or as Spigleman says:

"not everyone likes caviar either, so does that make them unsophisticated? NO, IT MEANS THEY DON'T LIKE CAVIAR!!!!! "

Most people would say "How do you know you don't like it, when was the last time you've tried it?" I don't like Caviar, and I probably never will, and there are no billboards or "caviar tasting" programs out there that will probably turn my mind otherwise. I know this, because I've tried. However, there are many things that I didn't like, or more precisely wasn't interested in, that I am interested in now.

Excuse me while I go a big off topic - I'll come back again in a minute.

As a younger child, I had no interest of the study of Canadian History or politics. When I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, I had a teacher in high school who was a former city councilor, and member of provincial parliament. Half way through the term, he moved all the desks in the class so that there were two sides to the class room, one side facing the other, with about 5 rows of chairs on either side. He had us vote for the party we wanted to be in - Liberal, Conservative or NDP, our teacher made himself speaker of the House, and then for about a month WERE the House of Commons. I couldn't tear myself away from C-Span (the station which shows the house of commons live) for weeks. All I could talk about was Canadian politics, and how someday I would a Minister in the House. Life has taken me a different direction of course now, so I'm not likely to start my campaign, but an involvement in some kind of city, provincial, or national political cause is not out of the question - and I do believe I owe this to my high school history teacher - even if he WAS a member of the conservative party ... that's another topic all together.

Anyhow, my point is - yes, the efforts to try to persuade viewers with candy, pizza, or snazzy billboards with scantily clothed cellists might have an appealing, short-term effect, but it can't hold them in their seats. Eventually they will figure out that they were "tricked" into it. BUT, a good solid FUN education does wonders. If an understanding of the process of music - the structure, the "reasons" we have music, the history of it (and I emphasis FUN - no memorization of dates and scores - more emphasis on the stories behind the composers and the music), there might be a fighting chance to get most of them inspired in some way.

I'm always amazed at how after two months of teaching music appreciation at the University level, how many students go from "I'm just taking this for an easy grade" to "Do you have free tickets for the next concert, I absolutely loved the last one I went to", or "I can't believe there are so many free concerts on Campus, I'm addicted now", and I think it is mainly because they have a better understanding of the music itself. Why aren't there these educational opportunities at a younger age? Why are we so obsessed at teaching arts in such a clear cut organized manner, without the aspects of "touch" or "feel" to them. Shouldn't those who teach these subjects be excited about it enough to share this passion?


Crimson Rambler said...

I think there's great power in experiencing live music -- live acoustic music -- when so much of the omnipresent music in our culture is electronically mediated. I've heard other people talk about how their (university) students were bowled over, reduced to tears, etc., by their first up-close experience of live, classical music...maybe especially chamber music.

Ron Spigelman said...

Thanks for your comment and your post with the link, I wanted to share with you the most ridiculous promotion I was involved with (I was assistant counductor so I had no choice!): Friday Martini Night
After the concert anyone with a ticket would get a free martini. Sounds like a great idea except they didn't tell the first timers that parkig cost $7, $2 more than a regular priced martini at a decent bar. They canceled the series within the season as soon as they realized that it was the orchestra drinking most of them! It was the worst attended series in the orchestra's history!
Ron Spigelman

M. Ryan Taylor said...

I think companies know they are 'tricking' people with the more wild promotions, but I'm sure they don't expect to retain all of their initial catch; it all figures into the larger scheme of exposing people to something that is not heavily promoted by the general media, something they may not have had a chance to hear. If they had a 5% retention rate, in the long haul it would be worth it. Though I have to agree that free martinis if a pretty lame idea. Utah Symphony & Opera has a social group called Vivace that has parties after selected events (often with the chance to meet composers or performers - how cool is that). It has been pretty successful from what I know of it, I even went to one. ~ M