Can Orchestras Speak to Mainstream Citizens?

This blog has been neglected for more than a year, set aside by the demands of my work at the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. As the League of American Orchestras Conference begins I’ll resume posting material.

Today I flew the last leg of my flight from Qatar, through Houston to the conference site Dallas. Both the Texas cities have been cited by GQ Magazine among The Worst Dressed Cities in America. Dallas is listed at 23. Having lived in Houston for a decade, it hurts to see my former city rated even worse at 21.

As I waited to board my flight I saw plenty of evidence our cities had earned this distinction. One traveler wore that most recent expression of bad taste in America, an elaborate cross of rhinestones and glitter on a T shirt. A Celtic cross on a pink leopard-skin shirt. I wondered WWJT–What Would Jesus Think? A Christian myself, I kept trying to reconcile a painful crucifixion with rhinestones and pink. Anyway, the picture was completed by frosted blonde hair with dark roots; an enormous tapestry-cloth hand bag with floral design and an equally large, quilted, silver purse; white pants that stopped just below the knees; flip flops (also with rhinestones); orange-red toenails and 200 pounds of flesh. I hope I sleep well tonight.

So what does this have to do with orchestra marketing? I wondered what today’s orchestras have to say to this woman. We’re fond in this industry of wondering such things. While I imagined her at an outdoor Independence Day concert or a Kenny Rogers concert, ultimately I decided this was a bad question. Or at least not a useful question.

Orchestras haven’t been creating much meaning for their core audiences in recent years; let’s start by making that happen. Programming the familiar to fill the hall, which is what I see in many places, isn’t stepping up to that challenge. Rather, only programming  to fill the hall fails our audience.

Should Stravinsky have worried that he wrote Rite of Spring or Apollon musagète or Agon for the tiny audience of the ballet? Yet look how the influence of his works has diffused through our society today, reaching everyone whether they know it or not.

So with this quirky note and posts through and after the Conference, let’s see if I can create some meaning for my core audience as I relaunch this site.

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