Adults Only

Adult education programs is a well worn topic here at Adaptistration and regular readers already know that I favor a sizeable increase in the quantity and quality of educational activities targeted directly toward adults. Meaning, it is high time to move beyond the static lecture style activities which focus on having someone talk at a group of people…

To go one step further, these fresh adult education efforts need to have a component which focuses exclusively on parents and what they need to become comfortable with bringing their children to concerts; and that topic lies at the heart of an article today published at The Partial Observer by Holly Mulcahy. I have to honestly say that I don’t see these issues changing much unless the major grantors for educational activities begin to see past the myopic view that educational activities need to be focused almost exclusively toward children. It will take no less than a concerted effort among a number of constituencies to make a difference but the benefits will be worth the effort.

In the meantime, take a moment to read Holly Mulcahy’s article to see why these efforts are needed in the first place.

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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6 thoughts on “Adults Only”

  1. Mulcahy hits the nail on the head. Such efforts turn more kids against symphony concerts than they ever bring in to the concert-attending fold.

    If orchestras want to find out how to get kids hooked, then they need to go talk to kids that are already in the fold and find out what might possibly work.

    Orchestras have been doing this for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t worked. Yet, they go on doing it and proudly list it among their “outreach” efforts.

    As the saying goes, one indication of insanity is redoubling your efforts in the conviction that something that hasn’t worked yet will eventually work if you persist in your efforts.

    Paul Alter

    By the way: One thing I wish you would address is this: Who owns a symphony orchestra? Also, who benefits if an orchestra folds; for example, who gets the endowment funds when an orchestra goes belly-up?

  2. Excellent article, Holly! I laughed at the “drive-by concerts” reference because it accurately describes the impact that these concerts have (or don’t have) on children. Personally, I had the same experience as Holly did when I was in school, and I was already playing two instruments. Boring. She is right–parents have an enormous impact on their children and educating the adults is a great idea. If we can make classical music less intimidating by teaching Mom and Dad that it is something everyone can enjoy, they will be more inclined to share the experience with their children. Thanks for posting this.

  3. However, what I call “The Trojan Horse” approach might work.

    That is, instead of having the kids sit wiggle and yawn their way thru an orchestral concert, use the orchestra to support something and/or someone they really do like — singer, dancer, whatever.

    While they are consciously focused on the main attraction, they are absorbing — subliminally — the lovely sound that live, unamplified music affords.

    Some oppose this as undignified. I’d say that my earliest exposure to orchestra sound was as accompaniment to operettas.

    Paul Alter

  4. Drew
    I decided to engage my audience connections class to post a joint comment on Holly’s article, please check it out when it appears, it might be a first for a whole class to comment? I can post it here also if you like, this subject in my view is the Achilles heel of all arts groups

    I think that’s a great thing to do Ron and I think posting in both locations is ideal since it is unlikely that there is 100% cross-over between readers from one column to the next. I’ll be interested to see what they have to say! ~ Drew McManus

  5. Drew, here is the class comment to is long!
    This is not an ambush but maybe a first? This semester I am teaching my audience connections class at Drury University in Springfield MO (Drew knows all about the class) and I was getting ready to post a comment when I thought it would be a good idea for the class to post one! There are four in the class and they represent Music, Dance, Music Theater and even Architecture! I don’t know if this has been done in the past it does make for a rather long comment! I will add something later, it is a great subject to bring up as it is such an Achilles heel for so many arts groups. Ron Spigelman
    Here goes:

    Dan: Children’s musical education should not just be developing future patrons. I believe that there should be equal opportunity for adults and children to become educated musically. I agree to some extent that children learn from emulating their parents, however, certain things do not translate. If a child does not like classical music, even if their parents do, they may not like classical music. And that is ok. Not everyone enjoys the same things. Some people would prefer to go sailing, some would prefer a trip to the movies, some would prefer hearing Rachmaninoff on stage. No amount of education can force someone to enjoy something they do not like. People can appreciate the talent, skill and fortitude needed to perform music professionally (or sail for that matter), but that does not mean that they have to love every second of it. I also agree that adult music education could be beneficial. I believe many adults would be willing to pay to learn. But more importantly that adding an extra source of revenue, adult education could bring about appreciation of music, and in turn, cultivate a love for it. However, this is subjective to the person. Education in any form should not have the primary goal to make money, build audiences, or develop patrons. Education should be to educate those who do not know. What happens after that is up to the individual.

    Katie: Interesting idea, Holly. However, I feel presenting an “educational” program for parents is even more berating and elitist than doing a show for children. It seems to say, “Since you don’t know jack about music and good parents do know about music, we’ll teach you something at our just-for-parents day.” Boo! I would be insulted if my child came home with a note in her backpack telling me to attend this.

    I do think you make a good point that education should involve all ages. Keeping with your idea of children and parents, I feel a better idea would be to offer such a free concert to entire families. In my family, the arts were always a way to connect – a common vocabulary to use. Some families have nothing to bind the ties. We can change that. In a society where the idea of spending quality time together is foreign, let us use art to create a consuming learning experience as well as something with which a family can engage and interact.

    Maybe patrons will come of these free concerts, and maybe they won’t. But who really cares? Sure, we all want to touch a life – and hopefully one day that life will come back and buy a ticket. But in the end, I think that is a shallow goal for any group that cashes in on “educating” or “enriching” the community.

    Amy: I remember those educational activities and field trips, and often times I would have preferred a magic show, too! However, I think the “precious few” who enjoy the concerts are the key. I can specifically remember being fascinated by a gospel choir that visited my elementary school. Then in middle school, a trip to a local art museum stands out in my mind as the first time I recognized the wide variety of artistic creations. Vocal music and fine arts are now two things that I study. I agree that many children will not find value in such events, but they give children the opportunity to observe the arts. These observations could allow kids to appreciate something new, and maybe even influence their future.

    Ellie: While I might agree that the arts have created a “very tired educational theme”, I don’t think it is an irrelevant theme. I think it simply needs to be woken up, expanded on, and explored more in depth… that is, we need to find out what would make a kid as excited about a symphony performance as they might be about a magician. I.e. make the performance interactive or add visual elements to the performance rather than just the usual audio… Or -go crazy- get the kids to play the come participate in the performance- maybe play an instrument???? I’m sure there are many more creative ideas to be acted upon than the previously listed, but the point I’m getting to is that gearing the arts towards students is not a lost cause. I can tell you, as a child who grew up in a home with parents in the medical profession whose passions were science and history, camping, and football, that the argument that a child will grow to enjoy only the things their parents enjoy is simply untrue. While I do enjoy similar things as my parents I also can still remember my first school trip to see a ballet at a local theater and how inspired I was at the age of 6… Ever since then, my love of art has only grown. Now, while pursuing my undergraduate degree in arts administration and design arts, I also teach and choreograph ballet for the local ballet company, working closely with the town’s arts council…I would say I’m a patron for the arts. On that note- it is my opinion that it is absurd for the arts’ goal in these educational themes to simply be creating future patrons. Future patrons WILL be created if the focus of the arts is, instead of finding patrons, touching people’s lives and inspiring them the way I was inspired the first time I saw Swan Lake or heard the Clair de Lune performed live or when I watch Michelle Kwan ice skate on t.v. While I don’t think targeting adults more as an audience is an unwise decision for any arts group, I do think that children can be inspired just as easily if not more so. Even if they are not captivated in the way I was as I watched my first ballet, there is at least a seed planted that can continue to be grown, whether by their parents or other arts groups, teachers, friends, etc.

  6. Holly Mulcahy makes some great points in this article.

    I do not agree with Katie that adult education programs would be viewed by most adults as “berating” or “elitist.” A few years ago the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra started an adult education series with its Music Director, Christopher Seaman called “Symphony 101.” This series became so popular that the performances had to be doubled.

    While not every child will grow up enjoying the same things their parents enjoyed, it makes sense that adults who have a greater awareness of classical music will value it more. This could translate into something as simple as fighting to keep a strong school music program. If children see their parents valuing the arts that is a good thing.

    The most important aspect of any orchestra’s educational programing is quality. The only way we can get children or adults excited about classical music is to make sure we’re always giving them our “A” game.

    -Tim Judd

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