Building An Audience That Knows Better

The cross-blogging applause discussion has apparently wrapped up nicely over at Rifftides. Doug Ramsey closes out the dialogue with some final words from jazz musician Bill Kirchner, the man who started the discussion in the first place…

Bill wraps up his views by saying (you can read Bill’s entire message here),

Fascinating views from the classical part of the spectrum. Maybe the overall lesson is that regimented, obligatory, unspontaneous responses from an audience are a drag for all concerned. Let people respond as and when they wish, but *because* they wish to, not because they believe it’s their duty.

And that’s really what’s at the heart of the discussion here, something which much more than when patrons should or shouldn’t clap. Instead, it’s far more important to grow knowledgeable audiences who know the difference between performances which do or do not deserve applause.

This is an old issue at Adaptistration but one worth mentioning again because how orchestras go about creating this ideal audience (assuming they even care to consider the issue) will fundamentally impact how they do business. I’ve presented several possible paths orchestras could follow in order to build such a self confident audience, but I’ve always felt that the most useful of these is to create a core of orchestra docents.

The type of orchestra docents I have in mind are highly trained volunteers educated in the art of public interpretation. They serve as the primary contact points with patrons attending concert events and help to build an audience base of knowledgeable classical music enthusiasts. You can read more about the details behind such a project in a series of research articles I published in 2004 (I apologize in advance for the missing charts in some of the articles):

  • Orchestra Docents – The Idea
  • How to Save Classical Music – Step One
  • Orchestra Docents Study – Part 1
  • Orchestra Docents Study – Part 2
  • Orchestra Docents Study – Part 3
  • Reader Response: Orchestra Docents

  • One of the spin off ideas which resulted from the series of Docent articles was the highly successful Take a Friend to Orchestra month initiative here at Adaptistration. You can read all about the fun from that project here.

    What do you think about all of this? Will patrons need to educate themselves or is the responsibility of the orchestral organization to actively find and educate their audience (and remember, publishing a first-timers guide simply doesn’t count as “audience education”)?

    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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