Can Cleveland Really Attract the Country's Youngest Orchestra Audience?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

An audience at Severance Hall in Cleveland An audience at Severance Hall in Cleveland (Cleveland Orchestra)

The graying of audiences is a perennial, if growing concern for symphony orchestras. Recent data from the National Endowment for the Arts shows that senior citizens are the fastest-growing segment of the classical music audience, while 35- to 54-year-olds are turning way. One presumed reason for younger people's reluctance is the price of entry.

Four years ago, the Cleveland Orchestra saw this as a significant problem and set itself an ambitious goal: to have the country's youngest symphony audience by the time it turns 100, in 2018. Central to its effort is an all-you-can-hear "Fan Card," which, for $50, allows students to attend as many concerts they want in a season. There are also $10 student tickets, and concert-goers under 18 can attend summer concerts at the Blossom Music Festival for free.

The entire initiative is supported with a $20 million grant from Milton and Tamar Maltz, longtime orchestra benefactors. As we hear on this week's episode, Cleveland seems to be making some headway: In 2010, students made up 8 percent of the audience. Last year, according to the orchestra’s figures, the number was 20 percent.

Joining us is Craig Duff, a journalist and producer who teaches at the Medill School at Northwestern University. He reported on Cleveland's initiative this week with a story and a nearly six-minute video for the New York Times.

Segment Highlights:

Can Cleveland really verify that they have the country's youngest audiences?

"When I buy a ticket they don't ask me how old I am. But they can track student tickets. Since orchestras don't all count their people the same way with the same metrics and data, there's really no way for them to know for sure. But they plan to prove by, for anyone looking into the hall to see that they have a very young audience."

On the orchestra's attempts turn weekend evenings at Severance Hall into date nights:

"The evening that I was there, there was a program of Rachmaninoff and some Strauss waltzes. Then you walk out [into the lobby] and you're greeted by the New York Gypsy All-Stars playing, with colorful lights and a bar. It was very vibrant with people dancing...There were definitely some couples on dates."

Adding outreach concerts in bars and neighborhood porches:

"It's hard to measure the impact of these. But it does give the orchestra a larger footprint and helps people know that music is not just the stuffy people in tuxedos on the stage, that it can come into your community, on your porch or in your neighborhood."

Listen to the full segment above and tell us in the comments: what do you think would most draw younger people to orchestra concerts?

Below: Cleveland Orchestra musicians perform a "porch concert" in Cleveland:

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Comments [9]

Bravo, Virgil.

I sang in public school choirs from an early age, and a seventh-grade teacher set up an audition for me for a boys' choir in Norfolk, Va. (Probably a mixed choir by now -- this was in 1967.)

Eventually, I sang with a university madrigal group during summer sessions (while still in high school), and received a full scholarship to the university, as a choral singer.

Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to be a subscriber to the Met and the NY Phil, but I attend as often as I can.

My public school music education served me very well.

DD~~

Jun. 02 2014 10:56 PM
Virgil from Bushkill, PA

I came from a family that had no experience with classical music. I was turned on to it by a wonderful eighth grade teacher. As a result, I minored in music history at Indiana University's outstanding School of Music and went on to become a devoted fan of the classics and the opera. I have since been a season ticket holder at The Met, City Opera, and the New York Philharmonic. My family has made annual pilgrimages to Tanglewood. Without that music education in junior high, none of this would have happened. And, my life would have been worse for it. We must bring back music education to all of our schools. It is an essential element of education, not a frill. Our kids deserve the experience I had.

Jun. 02 2014 08:18 PM
Lee Lieberman from Fort Lee

When I was a student at Case Tech(in Cleveland)across the street from CSOs Severance Hall in the 1960s, the Kulas Foundation donated very small amounts of money so the Student Music Club could buy 15 or 20 CSO Season Ticket Subscriptions. We broke the sets up and sold them to students at nominal prices. We got prime seating year after year as season ticket holders, the students could afford and got good seats/tickets 1-3 at a time, and we bought records for the university record library and its listening rooms with any profits!

May. 31 2014 11:28 PM
Mia Riker-Norrie from Montclair, NJ

I am General Director of Opera Theatre of Montclair, a newly-formed opera company in New Jersey. The ideas that The Cleveland Orchestra are implementing are to be wholly commended. While classical arts institutions rely on their "older" population to stay afloat, this will certainly, by definition, not sustain us for the long haul. We MUST educate our kids musically! While many public schools have failed recently in this regard, it is our DUTY to keep classical music (and in OTM's case, opera) alive. Artists need to go directly into the schools and run assemblies aimed at young kids. In our case, we have an abridged, fully-costumed "Magic Flute" which we will be taking into the public schools. There are plans to do the same with an "Il Trovatore" (though maybe we'll shoot for middle schoolers with that one!). The porch concerts are a splendid idea! I may steal that "Fan Card" idea too. We have been holding monthly fundraising concerts in people's homes, and we have been overwhelmed by the positive response. It truly is all about exposure. People can't like what they don't know. Congratulations to Cleveland!

May. 31 2014 03:05 PM
Lori from Orange County, CA

It starts in schools. When you take the arts out of the schools, how can you expect to develop an appreciation for classical music in young people? I'm 59 and had limited exposure to the arts as a young person. But when my son was eight years-old, he began classical voice lessons. It has been a wonderful experience and education for our family. We attended all Opera performances at Opera Pacific until it closed (with the benefit of student discounts). My radio station of choice in my car is now KUSC (Los Angeles) and I listen to Opera Podcasts when I can't sleep at night. I do have to say that the high ticket price prohibits us from attending live performances as we would like. And that eight year-old boy? He's a junior at Chapman University majoring in vocal performance!

May. 30 2014 02:20 PM
Susan Miller-Coulter from Western Massachusetts

I lived in NYC for a half century and return for performances episodically. Twenty years ago I was lamenting the aging of audiences for serious music, but now, all the time I see young folks and children in audiences. I do think the key is serious contemporary music rather than creaky items from the past. John Luther Adams and Become Ocean. John Adams, Nixon in China, and Doctor Atomic. We are fortunate to hear them in this exciting time. We will look back and see this is a fantastic flowering, in many genres.

May. 30 2014 11:33 AM
David from Flushing

Audience extinction is the most serious threat facing classical music today. I am glad to see some attempt to attract the under 65 demographic. From what I have read elsewhere, there has a move to "light" classics of shorter duration here. This could be a creeping danger to classical music in its own right. I recall a defunct NYC classical music station that restricted its broadcasts to the top 200 in its last period. People quickly tired of the repetitions of Brandenburg 5 and the Firewater Music. In the end, this did not attract an audience.

It would be interesting to know if these young people were those who already liked classical music, but not the ticket price, or people who are newcomers to the art form. This second group is that most urgently needed

May. 29 2014 08:20 PM
Karen Ann from Morristown, NJ

Good for Cleveland! In the 19th C., classical performances were multi-generational affairs. They still should be! But as someone just over that coveted younger age span, I'm wondering if they expect the younger audience members to adhere to the conventional standards of decorum -- particularly not texting or tweeting during the performances?

May. 29 2014 02:21 PM
Runa Schlaffer from Chestnut Ridge, NY

Of course you can't ask ticket buyers their age, but here's a way you could keep track of the percentage of non-senior citizens in the audience: offer a slight senior discount (perhaps even by raising the other prices somewhat if financially necessary) and then see what percentage of ticket buyers claim the discount. Good luck to the Cleveland Orchestra!

May. 29 2014 01:41 PM

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