Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fighting for an audience for classical music

Two recent reports shed light on the vexing problem of how to grow the audience for classical music.

Judith Dobrzynksi wrote a Nov. 4 article in the "Wall Street Journal" highlighting a study by the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation on how to keep orchestras alive in this country. I've linked the study here; Dobrzynski notes the report debunks many current notions on how to help orchestra, such as the idea that free concerts will help.

Here are some highlights from the report's executive summary:

-- "Free programming and outreach do not turn people into ticket buyers. They simply turn them into consumers of free programming."

-- "Traditional audience education efforts – targeted to the uninitiated – generally end up serving those who are most knowledgeable and most involved with orchestras."

-- "There is growing evidence that participatory music education – primarily instrumental lessons, ensemble and choral programs – will turn people into ticket buyers later in life."

-- "There is no evidence that exposure programs for children – especially the large concert format offerings for school children – will turn them into ticket buyers as adults."

-- "To grow their audiences, orchestras need to do more research on those who do not attend their concerts rather than focus on those who are already buying tickets."

-- "Regardless of their aspirations for artistic excellence and prestige nationally and internationally, orchestras must be relevant and of service to their communities and to the people who live there if they hope to find the resources to survive."

The "Washington Post" reports that a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts faults public radio for slashing classical music programming; public radio executives have embraced the idea that news and talk is a better way to rake in money, but the NEA says NPR also has an obligation to provide music commercial radio won't offer. NPR says it will soon begin offering classical music online. I couldn't find a copy of the report at NEA's web site.

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