TAFTO Contribution: Lynn Sislo

Rounding out this week’s contributions is Lynn Sislo, a classical music enthusiast who also hosts the very popular culture blog, "Reflections in d minor".   It’s easy for people who are intertwined deeply in the creation of live classical music to get overwhelmed by their surroundings.  As such, Lynn’s contribution is refreshing and quite poignant.

Not only does Lynn offer a sincerely unique perception with her contribution, but hands down, she provides all of us some of the best advice offered when it comes to inviting uninitiated friends.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’ll tease you with the fact that it’s about misconceptions – make sure you take the time to read down to the third paragraph from the end!

My Kid Dragged Me to the Opera

Summer of 2000. My two sons,  then aged 16 and almost 20, were
having a seemingly endless conversation about cars. The older one was
at the computer and the 16-year-old was standing nearby.  Feeling the
inspiration for a bit of  mischief, I thought to interrupt their
conversation with something – anything – that they had absolutely no
interest in. 

I had just recently heard an ad for the Tulsa Opera’s upcoming
season so I cheerfully cut in, "Hey, guess what. The Tulsa Opera is
going to perform The Marriage of Figaro next May."

I anticipated the classic eye-roll and, if I was lucky, one or two
smart-alecky remarks. Instead, my younger son lit up like a
six-year-old who has just been told that there will be an extra
Christmas that year and said, "I want to go see that!"

At the time, I listened almost exclusively to instrumental music and
had almost no interest in opera but I experienced a  rush of parental
pride. My kid wanted to go to the opera. You can brag about your
children’s little sports accomplishments and academic achievements but
MY kid wanted to go to the opera! You can’t top that.

Later that year unrelated musical explorations led me to suddenly
develop an interest in choral music. The Tulsa Philharmonic and the
Tulsa Oratorio Chorus were scheduled to perform Mozart’s Requiem in the
spring so I asked my son if he would like to go to that also and he
said yes so we went to Mozart’s Requiem in March and The Marriage of
Figaro in May.

We enjoyed both and have attended several more operas. I took my
older son to La Boheme and both of them to The Barber of  Seville.
Neither of them have changed their listening habits at all but I think
they would both go again and I discovered, sooner than I might have
otherwise, that I love opera.

Contrary to my attempt at humor in the title, I was not "dragged" to
the opera. Coercing a person to do something he does not want to do
rarely turns out well. The person you take to a concert should be at
least curious, therefore, the first step  in taking a friend to the
orchestra should be creating interest. The way to do that, of course,
is to talk about classical music and concerts in the same way that
anyone else talks about the things they are interested in.

That sounds simple but there is a huge problem in talking about
classical music with people who are not already into it. If we express
more than a casual interest we risk being accused of elitism,
therefore, many of us keep our interest to ourselves when among the
uninitiated. I have a bad habit of going to extremes. I either don’t
talk about it at all or I crusade for the cause. I think the best
approach is to be as casual as possible. Talk about the music itself
but also talk about the lives of the composers. Share some of the
sleazier legends. Tell a few jokes about musicians.

Be especially careful in the way you go about correcting
misconceptions. Most people love their misconceptions and will cling to
them as if all life on Earth depended on these false notions being
true. Attempting to take away these cherished beliefs will only cause
resentment. If you can just get them to listen, and if they’re
interested enough to keep on listening, they will learn.

When it comes time to go to a live performance you will at some
point have to address the sticky subject of concert etiquette. Don’t be
too pedantic about it but don’t leave your friend in the dark, not
knowing what to expect, either. And even if you, personally, think the
customs are wrong or outdated, tell him the reasons some people feel
that the "rules" are important, without being overly critical
concerning the issue. There will be ample opportunity for ranting later.

Unless your friend is one of those people who can’t stand operatic
singing, consider going to an opera. The "rules" are a little more
relaxed than at classical concerts. If you love that aria, it’s okay to
applaud after it’s finished. If something is funny it’s okay to laugh.
Reverence is expected at concerts but opera is fun. It’s a grand
spectacle that can hardly fail to delight even skeptics.

– Lynn Sislo

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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