Audience Development and Classical Music concerts for newbies

I had a major thought today after reading another article about a symphony performing a free classical music concert mainly for audience development purposes.  The repertoire selected was the same old type of list: Barber of Seville, some poppy selections from South Pacific, some light operetta favorites.  Throw in pieces from Fantasia and it’s a wrap!

I agree that it is nice to choose pieces that might be familiar to people in order to get them interested in classical music.  However, if they are truly newbies to art music, go ahead and program an accessible newer piece!  Here’s my story:

I had invited a friend to a wind ensemble concert.  She had never heard a wind ensemble.  She said she was willing to give it a try.  She was familiar with a few pieces on the program, but the one she really liked was something she never heard before.  She ended up enjoying the concert mainly because of this piece.  My friend came with an open mind so it really didn’t matter if the selections were familiar, only that they were quality music performed well.

From this example, if a person truly is open and new to hearing classical music, then they will be open to hearing anything!  It’s similar to when someone hears classical music out of context, let’s say on a commercial, and they end up noticing and really digging the music.

The point is, we have an opportunity to play new music for new audiences!  We don’t have to keep performing the same, although pleasant, “gateway” pieces.  We can throw in an accessible newer piece too.  I caution with “accessible” since something outside of a new ear comfort zone could be a complete turn off.  There are pieces out there that can fit nicely into an audience development concert, even if it is for kids.

I hope the composers out there are jumping up and down.  This is an opportunity for you too.  What would you compose if faced with the challenge of creating for a brand new classical music audience?

Perhaps you might still fear the fact that if the music is unfamiliar, this new audience may not like the program.  Please do consider though that if it is truly a new experience, these people are open and ready to receive the best of what you can offer them, no matter what century the music comes from.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

~James Stewart


Filed under arts management, Audience Development

2 responses to “Audience Development and Classical Music concerts for newbies

  1. Just had a similar experience this weekend: I attended a free private concert for one of the orchestra’s sponsors. There must have been 3,000 people with their chairs and lawn blankets, and plenty of children running around, talking, drinking and eating. Absolutely n0 sense of occasion. Near the stage a few folk seemed interested in the ‘concert’ but for the most part, it was a time to socialize.

    The programming didn’t help – some popular classics and some musical medleys but overall it was background noise with recognizable tunes. Despite the orchestra and many shots of players appearing on huge screens, the presentation was pretty awful – a very drab introduction with commentary by the guest conductor between pieces uninteresting and actually disengaging. As I walked out I said to my wife “If this is these people’s only experience of an orchestral concert, no wonder they wouldn’t pay $60 for a ticket the rest of the year.”

    We are dumbing down orchestras so much that the uninitiated see absolutely no value whatsoever. One comment I overheard was “why is it our company supports this group?” And yet there are good presenters/ conductors/ producers out there who never seem to get a break to lift these groups out of the whirlpool.

    • Stephen,
      Wow! So we somehow need to balance being a good ol’ orchestra and one that deserves attention. Do you think that these types of programs are seen as second class from the start and this is the reason they are almost “throw away” concerts?

      I agree if the audience was completely scattered like this, there is only a glimmer of a chance that they would consider buying regular tickets. The fact that you overheard that comment from a sponsor means the orchestra has not been engaging enough with them either.

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