Tina Ward  

Empty Seats - What Can We Do?

Tina Ward
April 10, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Looking out at the audience during a performance and seeing lots of empty seats is a disheartening experience for any orchestral player. We've all heard that old adage about "the graying audience members," but is it really so? Is there anything we as musicians can do to reverse this trend?

Tina Ward, a clarinetist with the Saint Louis Symphony, has been very active in her own orchestra as ICSOM delegate and has served on many orchestra committees. She was also an American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) Orchestra Management Fellow, which gives her a unique perspective on many aspects of orchestra life.

Tina offers her thoughts on what we musicians can do to improve the concert experience for the audience, in terms of employing audio-visual elements, making the concert more exciting for the audience, and enhancing the concert experience as a social event. Her lists of action items for orchestra musicians should instigate some lively conversations among your colleagues!

- Ann Drinan

One evening last fall I was in the musicians’ lounge, awaiting the beginning of the evening Pops show and reading the memo from my box. The Pops, a magic show, was quite entertaining to me. All sorts of things were disappearing and appearing throughout the evening. The music behind the show was fun to play and of a meatier quality than many Pops shows. Unfortunately the memo, regarding attendance figures and total ticket sales, was not as pleasing to me. Although the hall often appeared only half full to me, the symphony’s ticket revenue was ahead of comparable sales last year. I interpreted that to mean that, although fewer people are attending our symphony orchestra concerts this year than last, we’ve managed to raise our ticket prices enough to make up the difference. I was not impressed. The fact that revenues were up has not stopped my concern about the vast number of empty seats that I see all too often as I look out into the audience.

For years I have pondered the question, “Is there anything that we, the musicians, could do to increase attendance?” I believe there are many things that we can do. My purpose in writing this article is to encourage every musician to look at what s/he can do so that the symphony as an art form continues to flourish in this new century. There has often been a belief that if we marketed better, had better conductors, etc., that all would be well. While it is always theoretically possible to do something better, perhaps doing the old things better is neither humanly possible given available resources nor the only route to salvation. I ask all musicians to consider with open minds what other changes we might make so that symphony orchestra concerts remain economically viable and artistically fulfilling and joyful.

With current audio equipment I can sit comfortably at home and listen to a CD that reproduces the sound of a concert. Not only that, but I can listen as many times as I would like for no additional cost. Why should I bother to go to a concert unless it offers me more than just an aural experience? There are at least three aspects of the live concert that go beyond the experience of merely listening:

  1. Visual Presentation
  2. Excitement
  3. Social interaction

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