An article in 11/15/05 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle by Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic, reported on a new concert series from the San Francisco Symphony designed to not only attract new listeners and convert them into returning patrons but appeal to existing patrons as well. The series, entitled Friday 6.5, divides the concert up into two halves and has the conductor verbally guide the audience through portions of the program on the first half and then use the second half to play through the entire work. The trick, of course, is how effective the program will be at realizing its goals…
The San Francisco Chronicle article didn’t contain any information about whether or not the SFS was conducting any sort of evaluation procedure but it did center on the most recent Friday 6.5 concert featuring conductor David Robertson. The article goes on to report that much of the concert’s success was due to Robertson’s personal touch, which is not a surprise given that’s one of his fortes.
At the same time, “who” is leading the dialog makes for a large variable in measuring the program’s success. This sort of approach isn’t anything new in the business, if anything it is becoming trendy among a certain circle of orchestras to verbally engage an audience as part of the performance.
I was curious to know how San Francisco planned on tracking the impact of the Friday 6.5 series to see if it measures up to their criteria for success. I contacted the SFS Pr department to inquire about those issues and Caitlin Hartney, SFS Public Relations Coordinator, responded via email stating that their marketing department plans to distribute surveys during the last concert of the series on June 23, 2006.
Although it’s good that they are conducting some follow-up research, it would be better if they were able to track the progress of the series from concert to concert. Furthermore, this brings up another excellent point related to how successful orchestras are at implementing impact studies and program evaluation.
Ideally, it would be best to see orchestras in similar positions as San Francisco implement an evaluation process for each of the Friday 6.5 which could include in-person and online surveys as well as face-to-face research. I can’t stress that last point enough; it’s one area where the majority of organizations in this business repeatedly fall short. Every organization should have managers and staffers at every concert talking to as many patrons as possible to document their initial reactions, etc. in order to sincerely gage how a series or event is being interpreted.
An even better solution would include the use of an established on-site docent program, and then every concert event would have the ability to gather listener feedback without adding additional stress to limited administrative resources.