TAFTO 2006 After Action Report

There’s been some intriguing follow-up action around the blog-o-sphere following this year’s TAFTO initiative…

  • TAFTO 2006 contributor Brian Sacawa published an engaging exchange between himself and a TAFTO reader at his blog Sounds Like Now.
  • Patty Mitchell, one of the TAFTO 2005 contributors & author of www.oboeinsight.com, weighed in on the 2006 initiative the other day where she examines her own response“that I found puzzling, frustrating, interesting and, finally, meh”
  • Lisa Hirsch, another TAFTO 2005 contributor & author of the Iron Tongue of Midnight, was struck by Alex Shapiro’s 2006 contribution.
  • DCist.com, a blog specializing in cultural happenings in my old stomping grounds of DC-Baltimore, is reminding readers that this is the last week to partake in TAFTO goodness.
  • Scott Spiegelberg, asst. professor of music at DePauw University, examines the issues involved with just how much music you can stuff into an orchestra newbie.
  • Dr. Dick, WITF FM 89.5 Music Director,  has quite a bit to say about Joe Patti’s 2-part TAFTO contribution (which are becoming known as the “Patti Papers” throughout the island of Oahu).</blockquote>

It’s quite likely there’s more going on out there than what’s listed above and I apologize in advance for inadvertently leaving anyone out. In the end, I think TAFTO 2006 was another big success and the wheels are already in motion for securing contributors for TAFTO 2007.

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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15 thoughts on “TAFTO 2006 After Action Report”

  1. Heh!

    And ACD had something to say about what Brian published. (Surprise.)

    I took a friend to the orchestra this month and said something about that experience, mostly in the context of why people who like classical music don’t attend more concerts. I ought to have asked her to write up her reactions to the concert. It has been more than a week and she may or may not be able to do so now. (Even I haven’t. It was the Webern/Stravinsky/ Ives concert the SFS played at Carnegie.)

    I keep thinking about an essay called “Take a Friend to the Opera” and wondering if there is someone willing to sponsor an operatic TAFTO.

  2. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Drew, Brian thought I wrote that post he quoted at his blog, but that wasn’t mine. I think it was the one, either before, or after mine. Nevertheless, it was nice of him to link to me, and I enjoyed our email exchange, recently. He’s a very fine musician and a sensitive thinker, but, I am not a performer, as his blog suggests, only a very silent visual artist who can’t live without music.

    As for my first orchestra performance experiences, they were in the late 1940’s, and were exciting as all get out for a little girl “would-be Heifitz” violin pupil! And, I’ve never had any trouble with the offerings of orchestras unless they were designed to “pander” to the lowest common denominator, or were, even worse, mediocre performances. I love every period of music, and eagerly relish any new music that is performed by my rather conservative local orchestra. As an artist, I totally believe in the art of our time, no matter from which artistic discipline it originates.

  3. TAFTO is a wonderful way to address the challenge of building audiences for classical music.

    This would be a great idea for the dance world. I have to say that I’m very jealous. There are lots of music enthusiasts embracing TAFTO and writing excellent posts about their experiences.

    In the dance world there are so few blogs about dance that there is not even the beginning of an online conversation about the challenges facing dance.

    If anybody has thoughts about how to implement the TAFTO concept for dance performances, I’d be delighted to hear them.

  4. Well, having stumbled into a tempest in a teapot (with all the twists and turns subsequently on ACD blog) with my response to Brian’s post on TAFTO, I want to second his, and Drew’s intention to create new audiences by TAFTO efforts. I have done this, ad hoc, myself, and the results have been very gratifying. Years ago, I gave two tickets to two young teenage students who were members of a highly successful rock band (which later evolved into a professional group) to a symphony concert featuring a cellist, as soloist.

    At that time, the auditorium being used had terrible acoustics, which may have accounted for their response to the cellist. They told me that they liked the music a lot, and the cellist, but they “had a hard time hearing him.” I suppose that might have had as much to do with hearing loss from playing rock and roll, as the acoustics of the room. But, I was impressed with their genuine sincerity about the experience, which opened their ears to the drama and excitement inherent in great classical music.

    TAFTO is definitely a worthwhile project, and every month should be TAFTO month! And, no matter the age of the guest!

  5. Well, after having gone to the oboeist’s site, I am dismayed that the identity of the poster to Brian’s piece which ended up on his blog was attributed to my post. My intelligence as visual artist is being attacked, unfairly, as a result. I am not angry with Brian. On the contrary, from just the latest response
    to his post, I am made aware of the lack of restraint the web has when people are emotional about a subject. All kinds of nonsense end up clouding the real issues, which is, in this blog, the fostering of a love of one of the greatest forms of music in the world.

    Let’s not let our preconceptions about visual artists hide a very real fact: visual artists experience a lot more classical music than classical musicians take time to experience visual art. I say that as someone who has listened to classical music my entire career as I worked, and whose many artist acquaintances do the same. I would challenge any oboeist, or any other musician to be able to do the visual equivalent of what I and another graduate student did one night, while working in the studio: whistling the last movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, in its entirety,
    while alternating music phrases between us, in a playful exercise of sheer joy over the music and our communication. Maybe, we missed our calling!

  6. LOL! Well, I guess I should come out of the closet, since poor Margaret is being assessed on the basis of my comments (sorry, Margaret!). And thank you to Drew for recapping the discussion, as I was unaware of the waves my remarks generated.

    While I find a lot to consider in Brian Sacawa’s iPod argument, I also want to respond to some questions and possible misconceptions in Patty Mitchell’s reaction to my post.

    First and foremost, my comments weren’t at all about not “getting” classical music in general–that was a big leap. It was about attracting new audiences in a society accustomed to constant and easy mental engagement in their leisure activities. Not to mention that the options for ways to spend a free evening have multiplied exponentially in the last 50 years, while the pressures of hyperactive lifestyles have steered people in the direction of mindless unwinding. We’re slicing and dicing, folks.

    Patty stated, “I also wondered why someone would participate in something she doesn’t really care to attend.”

    I think if we assume everyone is attending because they find *all* classical music to be a glorious, visceral experience, we need to rethink. There are a multitude of other reasons for attendance. What are my reasons?

    1. Because I’ve been involved with this orchestra as a chorus member and, at times, a volunteer and staff member (involved in marketing and fundraising, no less) for more than 25 years, therefore the loyalty factor is strong.

    2. Because the conductor is a good friend and I enjoy and admire many of the orchestra members (never underestimate how many audience members are there because they are supporting one of the 50-100 people on stage).

    3. Because I am also a classical music performer and like to hear other performances, especially if the guest artist is a potentially exciting draw. And even as a performer, I know full well that when I’m on stage, there are other people who might feel like me in the audience. But performing satisfies the “engagement factor.”

    4. Sometimes because I’m a fan of the particular musical work or composer.

    None of these factors guarantees that the concert will be a totally (or sometimes even mostly) engaging experience for me as a listener at a particular date and time. Maybe the programming or artist doesn’t quite click, maybe I’m too exhausted or distracted from a 50-hour office week, who knows? And at times, knowing there’s the potential for it to feel more like effort than enjoyment affects my anticipation level. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for the risk factor of live performance. And that can even apply to the despised pops concerts .

    So, on this basis, I have to say the “pearls before swine” analogy stings a little bit, although I understand the emotion behind it. But in my opinion, we need to be quite a bit more understanding of our potential audience’s realities when we want them to commit to not only a single concert, but series upon series. We’re asking them to guarantee us their dollars and attention for multiple dates in advance. How do we help new listeners quantify getting their money’s worth in comparison to the competition, in a way that speaks to them?

    I know. Came to the table with plenty of questions and no good answers…

  7. I think this would be difficult to prove:

    “A very real fact: visual artists experience a lot more classical music than classical musicians take time to experience visual art.”

    I have no idea what percentage of visual artists listen to classical music regularly or what percentage of classical musicians go to museums, shows, galleries on a regular basis. Do you have citations for the statement above, Margaret?

  8. I’m not a statistician, nor a scientist, so the previous post will receive, probably, what might be a limited response to the challenge to produce proof of my statement about artists vs. musicians.
    Other than Schoenberg, who was an interesting painter, although not a trained one, I can’t think of a single famous musician, other than certain composers (Stravinsky, for instance), who has shown an awareness of art history, or an ability to create original art. On the other hand, one may cite Kandinsky, Albers, Klee, and so many others, I can’t list here, who regularly played string quartets together, some, having had to choose, as I did, whether to continue with music as a career, or take an alternate path. To play string quartets, even as an amateur, one would have to admit, takes a lot of knowledge and technique.

    Generalizations are always refutable. However, I come from a family in which every single member is a professional classical musician, all teaching in universities or schools, as well as performing throughout the world. Not one of them has any knowledge about visual art which would match my knowledge of music. I could say that my artist friends who didn’t grow up in the same environment I did also share my knowledge level. I am not a spring chicken, so, perhaps my experience is a generational one. But, I stand by my statement that artists know more about different composers, their styles and the history of music, and spend more time listening, than musicians spend time in looking, or making visual art.

    I know that musicians have to spend much time practising, and that limits their time for art. There are exceptions, always, such as Askenazy, who I saw visiting the Metropolitan whenever he was in New York.

    One of my dreams is that music and art could draw closer together, as we share so much in common, compositionally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you visit my web site,”http://www.margaretkoscielny.com”
    you will, if you explore deeply enough, find my affinity for music, and
    works which are inspired by the architecture of art. You may not like the art, but my heart is in the same place: I love music, and cannot live without it.

  9. Okay. I’m guilty; I over reacted. I apologize. (And I did apologize publicly at my site as well.)

    You aren’t swine if you don’t like what I do. Really. And I honestly didn’t mean to come across as harshly as I did, Marla.

    Yeah, I get emotional about my gig. Having read so many posts and hearing about books that seem to take delight in the classical musician’s demise, I sometimes say and write dumb things.

    And Margaret, I’m sorry to have offended you so horribly.

    I didn’t intend to come off as a jerk.


    As to the topic itself … well … I stand by my “it’s not for everyone” thing, and for the moment I’ll leave it at that. I think I need to take a time out. :-/

  10. Patty, thanks for the apology at your site and here. I know you are an overall good person and a delightful writer on your blog.

    But, hey, if you were impressed by my whistling Beethoven, you should hear my Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on New Years Eve. At least, I think I can still do it. My embrasure is not as good as it used to be, but, maybe, I can do it through my teeth, like an oboist? (I’m laughing as I write this.)

  11. Patty, I also appreciate the apology, and I’m not that offended, truly.

    More than anything, I’m thinking I don’t communicate very well. In my mind, “Classical music doesn’t consistently engage me” isn’t equal to “I don’t like what you do.” And I hate to leave you thinking that I don’t like it, because it’s pretty far from the truth.

    I’m just struggling with the conundrum. Totally agree with you that it’s not for everyone. At the same time, I do believe more people would enjoy live classical performances if they experienced them.

    But getting them to buy into that notion, and to buy in regularly enough to help sustain classical performances, is a complex sell.

  12. I also just want to thank everyone who has chimed in on this post and the whole TAFTO discussion. It has been very useful in helping me to hone my own viewpoint and challenge my assumptions. Maybe I can put it to good use down the road. . .

  13. Back again. I was actually going to send this over to Brian Sacawa, but there’s nowhere to post there, and I have no personal blog for dueling, so have to encroach on Adaptistration one more time.

    Brian, if ACD is using my “comment” to support his “get ’em when they’re young” position, I don’t fit that mold any more than you do. I was raised in a family that is musical, but neither of my parents were educated in classical music. I grew up with a lot of Broadway, popular, and sacred music from the 1920’s-50’s. We were in small school systems and I didn’t even have access to a band or choral program until I was in high school in the 70’s. Vocal art songs for competitions and high school band versions of ‘Eroica’ were as close as I got to classical experience.

    However, I still studied opera in college and still felt the need to seek out a choral outlet after I got married. And my involvement with classical music grew from there, once I lived in an area where access to an orchestra and other arts groups were available.

    If anything, what shaped me most musically as a child was the fact that we didn’t have a car radio until I was a teenager. As a result, I didn’t hear rock and roll and 60’s pop on a regular basis until I was about 13, and most importantly, my family sang in the car for entertainment while we were driving. I didn’t know squat about classical music, but participating in music was important. Singing harmony was important.

    And as I grew up and was gradually exposed to people who love classical music, and venues where I could experience and participate in it, I grew to love it and appreciate the depth it added to my life. But the majority of this experience didn’t even begin until after age 18.

    I’m also employed in book publishing and am a preacher’s kid. I’m now watching all three loves of my life (music, religion, and language/publishing) go through transitions that may not leave them in a recognizable state within another generation or two. This leads me to believe the issues we’re trying to address are much deeper–much more global–than just how to retain a classical music audience or keep a publishing house in the black. Even so, I hold a firm belief that the inner need for spiritual, intellectual, and creative depth will keep returning and manifesting.

    But the ways in which they do so may not generate salaries for as many people as we want to see have them, whether in music or publishing. And even though we all want to believe our primary concern is the creative art form, I’m not sure we would be so worried about audience preservation if we didn’t tie the art form to a financial value system (paying musicians, teachers, production costs, etc.). Without those parameters, we would have no problem saying “I just want to do it for my community and self-fulfillment.”

    I’m sure that will probably cheese off more than a few people. But for at least a few years of my life, I’ve depended on a salary from an orchestra organization, so don’t think I’m not sympathetic. And don’t forget that the current recording and file-sharing culture may do just as much damage to the performance income of all the music genre’s you consider to be trash these days. Talk about leveling the playing field.

    Of course, I’m just now getting around to reading Sandow’s online book and finding he’s covering some of those issues quite well, so this is just retread.

    But bottom line is, I don’t believe that people who don’t experience classical music during childhood are lost souls. And I still think TAFTO is a great idea.

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