Some Interesting Initiatives In San Francisco

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.

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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1 thought on “Some Interesting Initiatives In San Francisco

  1. While I’m sure the SFO wouldn’t claim their approach is unique, it did remind me of the Kantatewochenende that Helmuth Rilling used to run at the Gedaechtniskirche Stuttgart decades ago (and which may still be going on; see Rick Roe’s comment at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/When.htm, http://www.elk-wue.de/cms/glaubeundleben/glaubensprachegeben/kirchenmusik/portraithelmuthrilling, and “Auskunft Ueber Den Glauben ; Predigten 1965-1993” at http://www.tfront.com/product.php?pid=184566&qstring=Cantata&qformat=BK&lm1=0&nf= ).

    When I was singing as part of that volunteer Kantatenchor in the early 1970s (and my future wife was sometimes playing in the orchestra), the Sunday morning service consisted of a first singing with a sermon fragment from the pastor after each section, followed by a second singing of the entire cantata without interruptions. Somewhat different purposes; somewhat similar means.

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