TAFTO 2009 Contribution: Molly Sheridan

If we could see tomorrow’s audience today, I hope it looks like Molly Sheridan. The new cultural countess of cool is always charming, infinitely intriguing, and – most importantly – never dull. Being the new media maven she is, Molly wasn’t content with writing something for this year’s Take A Friend To Orchestra (TAFTO) event; instead, she recorded a wonderfully satirical take on everything you need to know about the modern concertgoing experience…


Just press play to become one of Ms. M’s concert crowd elite…


[spoiler name=”For all those with a need to read, click here for the script”]

Hey there, music fans. Curious what goes on in symphony hall after dark? Welcome to Take a Friend to the Orchestra 2009, your one and only source for how to party with the orchestral elite. Whether it’s Schubert or Schoenberg the natives are snacking on, anyone can take a taste if they know which fork to use. And you don’t have to wear black to the ball, Cinderella. This club’s not as uptight as you might think.

Like finding something decent to watch on cable TV, determining which concert to attend from a season brochure can take some clicking. If the names and faces leave you feeling about as intelligent as your last attempt to read the Economist, don’t drop out yet. Classical music can require class of all sorts, and this introductory course might entail a little Google-ing. No shame in that, and if your search results aren’t giving you what you need, you can always phone a friend.

Speaking of friends you can use, now is the time to scan your social networks and sort the associates most likely to have NPR preset on the car stereo and a few Mahler recordings hiding between the Madonna and Metallica CDs. While you’re soliciting classical music expertise, why not see if they’re free Friday? A symphony is a dish best shared.

Once you’ve settled on a show, remember to keep your cool. You still have to call the box office, select your seats, swallow the ticket price, and possibly even snag pre-show dinner reservations at a place with table clothes. What made you think getting cultured was easy? Now all you have to manage to do is find a place to park the car downtown and navigate your way to your seat—with your hair done and your manicure unchipped. We know what you’re thinking: A night out was never so much…fun.

But don’t stress. The entertainment begins as soon as you push open those lovely lobby doors. A concert hall crowd might look like any church social at first glance, but there’s almost always at least one or two glamour girls and boys on the floor. Snag a spot next to one of those imposing stone pillars and impress your date with your best Joan Rivers. Oh my god, is that pink marabou?

Ting-a-ling, ladies and gentlemen. For whom is that bell tolling? Just a nudge towards our seats, everyone. The show is about to begin.

The lights dim, your cell phone is switched off, and your crinkly paper things are stashed securely under your seat. Now is the time to let go of the outside world and sink into your velvet cushion. This is what going to the symphony is really about, after all, and all you have to do is listen. How often does that happen?

So you loved it, you really loved it? Clap your hands and say yeah!—on the inside (ahem). Outwardly, imagine you’ve just seen Tiger Woods drive one perfectly down the fairway and cheer him on with all the country club reserve you can muster. Unimpressed? Clap slightly slower than your neighbor. Keep the lighters under wraps and no tossing your underthings to the concertmaster, no matter how much you admired that solo in the third movement.

At half time you’ll notice the concert regulars motivating towards the exits with little regard for those in their path. That’s because they have done the math and now have two valuable piece of information that you may lack. One: there are 586 women in this hall, and exactly 3 stalls in the ladies restroom. And two, the assembled crowd has exactly 14 minutes to purchase and consume a beverage in the lobby. Whether you have an opinion on the evening’s guest artist or not, if that $7 Dixie cup of Merlot is essential to your concert experience, you best make haste.

Settling in for the second half, you may already feel like a pro and be ready to make some judgment calls of your own. Did that man’s cell phone actually ring in the middle of that last piece, even after it was announced twice that people should shut them off? Is that lady going to dig through her purse the entire performance? Does half the audience have pneumonia! For Christ’s sake!

Hey. Listen to you! You’re sounding like a seasoned concertgoer already. Therefore, it is my distinct pleasure to let you in on an almost universal truth. Orchestras can be fantastic or dreadful and everywhere in between. Audiences, however, are almost universally annoying. Welcome to the going to the symphony! It’s a transformative experience in more ways than they advertise on the poster.

Once the show is over, the halls tend to drain out pretty quickly with barely a glace spared for all that gilding up the walls and the elaborate carpeting on the stairs. How did you like your evening? There might not be a comment box in the lobby, but you can let them know what you thought when they call you next week to see if you’d be interested in purchasing a complete subscription package. That’s right—you can have this much fun, on schedule, eight times a year.

Well, that’s all for me ladies and gentlemen. See you at the symphony.



More Contributor Goodies

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 “TAFTO 2009 Contribution: Molly Sheridan”

  1. Much appreciated you posting the script (thank you!). This was fun to read, quicker than listening and less draining on the download allowance. I hear Molly has a sequel planned – looking forward to it. This contribution also reminded me how grateful I am that you’ve named the whole exercise Take a Friend to Orchestra.

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