Monday, September 23, 2019

Tllting at windmills?

Joshua Reynolds, classical music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this provocative article about the cost of attending cultural events:

I have a  slightly alternative view, as an artist, and as someone who writes a good deal about classical music.  Who wouldn’t want to buy tickets as cheaply as possible?  Who wouldn’t want to attend every opera for nearly free?  Who wouldn’t want a Rembrandt hanging in their local pub for all to see at only the cost of a beer?  But that really isn’t the issue.   

What we pay for something is an indication, obviously, of its worth.  People spend over $100 a day to go to a theme park.  They value that experience commensurate with what they pay for it.  Too much money you say?  Don’t go.  Yet, Disney deserves to recoup its costs, plus some for profits.  Symphonies are the same, except that their operational costs are so high that to expect tickets sales to cover their costs is out of the question.  Why should musicians give away their services?  For the same reason, your physician doesn’t give away theirs. But why are symphonies so expensive to operate? Because there are roughly 100 highly skilled musicians on stage, playing music in a hall that requires, heat, light, and air handling.  Let’s not forget that in major symphonies, the musicians have spent their lives honing their art and spending roughly half a work-week preparing for a concert.  Further, they are led by often extremely talented conductors who also act as the organization’s music director.  And wait- there is more.  Since ticket sales don’t cover the costs, there has to be staff to bring in donor money, to invest that money, manage it and otherwise pay the bills.  But doesn’t the government give them a lot of grants? Well, no.

I think that cost is only one of the reasons some people chose not to attend symphony concerts d.  If someone gave me a free ticket to attend a Falcon’s football game, I wouldn’t go.  It’s not what I like to choose spending my time doing.  It doesn’t interest me and provides me no satisfaction.  For some people, the same is true of symphony concerts.  The “No wayers” have definitive ideas of what they don’t like.  But there is that group that may have their interest piqued enough that they might be interested in going, and that is the group that should be listened to about what they would like, and marketed to.  

Listening to classical music is not easy.  It requires engagement, concentration, and a willingness to sit for about two hours.  That just isn’t for many, who are used to fast editing in movies and TV.  I think that one of the attractions of the Harry Potter movies for young people is that no scene lasts for more than a minute.  I find them exhausting to watch, but I can engage, concentrate on, and sit through two hours of some of humanity’s greatest creations. 

Maybe we should reach younger audiences by providing more information through their mobile phones, for example, of what to expect regarding the music, the non-existent dress code, logistics, etc.  That should be followed up with information during a concert about what is being heard and why it matters.  That might, in fact, lead to greater engagement, concentration, and learning for some of the fence-sitters. 

In addition, some kind of monthly subscription that would allow someone to attend a concert as many time as they wished could be offered.  This would probably work best for the cheap seats, but it might be a way to guarantee a predictable income for a season. 

And one big-ticket item is parking.  That’s a tough nut to crack, especially when concert halls are located in the heart of most old cities.  But that is another discussion.

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