Is this really what Classical Music needs?

“Your existing clientele won’t mind. Old people LOVE seeing young people around. What if word leaked out? Scandal! Lookism! Headline: Symphony Luring Beautiful Young People To Concerts With Free Tickets! Watch the box office phones light up for days afterward.” – thad

I must say that I’m a little speechless right now.

thad says:

The question is, is the audience graying because the music is not cool enough to attract the young, or do the young avoid the music because the audience is full of deeply uncool old people?

As you well know, Greg, I tend toward the latter view. The music is fine; it’s the audience you have to change.

I think back to your friend Jed and his experience with the Pastoral Symphony. He already loved the music. If it was a professional orchestra he went to hear, we can safely assume the performance was more than vivid enough for a first-time concert-goer. (Do you remember the first time you heard a professional orchestra live? I do. Vividly.)

It was the experience that left him nonplussed. Music, for the young, is tribal. My favorite band attracts my kind of people to its performances. That – almost as much as their music – is why they’re my favorite band.

When young people do happen to wander into symphony hall, they encounter an alien tribe. No wonder few return.

Allow me to interject my own recent experience here. Until about a year ago, I was a bartender and server working for the catering company at our local symphony hall. Our company also serviced a number of other venues in town, including one of the premier live music clubs (rock, alternative, hip-hop, country, you name it).

At Symphony Hall, whenever an under-30 would approach the bar they would inevitably ask “Can I take my drink into the hall?” The answer, of course, was “No.” You shall enter the hall when the bell rings. If late, you shall remain outside until there is a break. You shall not take your beverage with you. You shall remain in your seat until the music is over.

At the live music club, people arrive all through the performance. Get a drink, take it up front, right next to the band, meet a girl there, move to the back for a little conversation, fetch both of you another drink, head up front again, then outside for a smoke, then back inside for more of everything.

At Symphony Hall, the “Development Team” consists of former bankers and stockbrokers, inviting older folks in for dinner at the restaurant before the concert to talk about making a “planned gift” to the orchestra after their death. At the live music venue, the “development” team is the bartenders – all smokin’ hot young gals – each of whom is required to fill their comp list quota every night with 10 smokin’ hot friends like themselves so that patrons entering the club see 40 – 50 hotties out on the floor even before the concert starts.

Keep in mind that the live music club puts this kind of effort into “grooming” their audience even though they are presenting musical acts that already have a following among the young.

I know you’re a happily married father, Greg, but think back to when you were 25 and on the make. Musical considerations aside, which audience would you rather be a part of, the one where the cute bartenders recruit their cute friends, or the one where the suits invite the old folks in to talk about their will?

If I were the executive director of a major symphony orchestra, my first hire would be a new audience development director. I would look for such a person well outside the performing arts circle. I’d look for them in the nightclubs of cities – Vegas, LA, New York, London – where the clubs are state-of-the-art. They would have absolutely nothing to say about the music or programming; that is the prerogative of the music director. Everything else – ticketing, advertising, the bars, the food, the programs, the ushers, the overall vibe of the event out in the lobby – would be theirs.

I’d have them recruit a dozen model/actor types: gregarious, sociable, magnetic, men and women. Give them a stipend, an expense account, and a stack of business cards and have them hit the town every day. Coffee houses, yoga studios, gyms, hair salons, boutiques, brewpubs, bars, restaurants, nightclubs. “What do you do?” “I work for the symphony, in development.” “The symphony? You know, I love classical music!” “Really? Here’s my card. Call me. I’ll hook you up.”

Twelve recruiters. Ten prospects a day each. Every day. Comp 200 young, good looking, well-dressed, fashionable people for every single performance. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. All season long.

Your existing clientele won’t mind. Old people LOVE seeing young people around. What if word leaked out? Scandal! Lookism! Headline: Symphony Luring Beautiful Young People To Concerts With Free Tickets! Watch the box office phones light up for days afterward.

The temptation to fiddle with the music is powerful, especially for musicians/composers/critics. When your toolkit consists of a hammer, every problem is a nail. The fact is that the modern symphony orchestra, amazing and flexible as it is, is not infinitely flexible. It evolved to perform music from a given span of human history. Sure, a symphony orchestra can play Go-Go or Mos Def if it wants to, but the result is unlikely to be satisfying to true fans of Go-Go, Mos Def, or of symphony orchestras for that matter.

Have faith in the music. It’s amazing. It’s your institution that needs work. Its funding, its cost structure, the marketing, the atmosphere, the audience. Take care of those things and all will be well.

thad amended his post with this:

thad says:

One thing I meant to add, but forgot:

I smiled when I read your mention of the 1955 Minneapolis audience survey. My grandmother grew up in Minneapolis, albeit well before 1955. When -in my early 20s – I first started going to classical concerts, she told me that, when she was a young woman, she used to go to hear the symphony all the time.

“Why did you stop?”, I asked.

“Well, I got married”, she answered.

“Why should that stop you?”

“Because I went to the concerts to meet boys!”

For her generation, there were only a handful of places where a young woman could have a drink and talk to eligible young men and not be thought a slut: Junior League dances, the country club, or the symphony. That was it.

Young people have a LOT more choices for that sort of thing today. If we’re going to attract them to concerts, we have to keep that in mind.

Dothraki Love Songs and Who is Paul McCartney, anyway?

Occasionally I do weird web searches–it’s usually how I find some very interesting things that I would never have come across even while some bemoan that the net has killed browsing culture.  Sure, it’s still not the same thing as having the physical and visceral feel of picking out a book and looking at it, but that’s not the point here.

Dothraki Love Songs are Srsly Serious!
Dothraki Love Songs are Srsly Serious!

I was looking for Dothraki Music since I’m interested in how “Geek Cultures” have created their own musical genres, and I came across this link blogpost, The Dothraki Have No Word For ‘Valentine’ by Kirk Hamilton.  The post, as you can see from the date, took place right before Valentine it linked to a series of Game of Throne Valentine Cards which I thought were hilarious when I first posted them to my Klingon Band’s facebook page last year.

Continue reading “Dothraki Love Songs and Who is Paul McCartney, anyway?”

High Entry Cost and “Retainability” of Musical Organizations

Kid Rock performs with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Sold-Out show raised over a million dollars for the DSO. Or maybe some of those funds are going to relocate the Kid Rock Badass Beer?

In my previous post I outlined some aspects of various performance based industries (Classical Music, Sports, Pop Music) and how audiences numbers can matter little to the largest organizations within them (Orchestras, Sports Teams, Pop Superstars).  I highlighted what i was referring to as an “infrastructure” which contributes to the lion’s share of revenue (and resources) that are as much, if not more, important to the profitability (and sustainability) of such industries.

Ironically, given his position within the field of cultural economics and the “Cost Disease” named after him, William J. Baumol discusses how industries can become “too big to fail” in almost the opposite way that so-called labor-intensive industries (such as the Performing Arts) are “too big to succeed” due to the Performance Income Gap.

Continue reading “High Entry Cost and “Retainability” of Musical Organizations”

The Greatest Video Game Music

London Philharmonic Orchestra - The Greatest Video Game Music

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this album is out.  Especially as many US orchestras include a concert of music from video games in their regular or pop seasons.

I am pleased that the instrument on the cover is a cello! 😀

Here’s the track listing:

1. Advent Rising: Muse
2. Legend of Zelda: Suite
3. Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2: Theme
4. Angry Birds: Main Theme
5. Final Fantasy VIII: Liberi Fatali
6. Super Mario Bros: Themes
7. Uncharted – Drake s Fortune: Nate’s Theme
8. Grand Theft Auto IV: Soviet Connection
9. World of Warcraft: Seasons of War
10. Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty Theme
11. Tetris Theme
12. Battlefield 2: Theme
13. Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
14. Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare: Main Menu Theme
15. Mass Effect: Suicide Mission
16. Splinter Cell: Conviction
17. Final Fantasy: Main Theme
18. Bioshock: The Ocean on his Shoulders
19. Halo 3: One Final Effort
20. Fallout 3: Theme

I still have to figure out and arrangement of some World of Warcraft tunes for il Troubadore!  Kudos to the London Philharmonic Orchestra!  Here’s a link to some audio at

The death of the cinematic industry…

The Met’s “Die Walküre” by Richard Wagner, now showing at your local movie theatre!

So the last movie I went to, Thor, I was intrigued to see a table with fliers for a couple of upcoming “special events.”

The two fliers were slick promos for upcoming (one now past) live HD cast performances by the Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Look at that blurb in the top left hand corner of the first link – “Movie theaters aren’t just for the movies anymore.”  The big blurb in the middle column says:


Programming for everyone, and we mean everyone – from opera, sports, and comedy to original programming feature the biggest names in radio and television – with all of it containing exclusive content you won’t find anywhere else.  Special event features like behind-the-scenes footage and backstage interviews.  Big screens with high-definition picture and big-time surround sound with the best seats in the house and close-up view unlike any other.

For all the folks who continue to maintain the popularity of pop culture–in conjunction with the the supposed decline of high culture (Classical Music)–it’s a bit ironic that movie theaters are now showing live casts of, well, classical music.

The Met has been doing this for some time now, one of my friends and wonderful bellydancer, Sara Jo Slate, had the opportunity to teach Renée Fleming some moves and do choreography for the Gala show of the Met in ’08 (Thaïs) which I had to miss for various reasons (both the live opening as well as the livecast).  It was back then that the idea of live casting productions peaked my interest.

Now the LA Phil is getting in on the act.  With their new star power in the young Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, who first shook the Classical Music world when he toured the Venezuelan Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar (Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra).  Both he and the Orchestra are products of the Venezuelan, El Sistema, which has forcedsome of us to question how [little] we fund our Orchestras in the states given the wild success of the Venezuelan system.  The Berlin Philharmonic has also been broadcasting its concerts live for some time now with its Digital Concert Hall though I’m not sure how that fits into Movie Theaters as I believe this is for webcasting and/or live Television.