“The Millennials’ Orchestra” series of blog posts are not meant to be opinion pieces, but rather founded in research, which I gathered and reported as part of my graduate Capstone project from 2012-2013. This is a personal blog and does not represent the views or opinions of my employer.
The Millennials’ Orchestra: From The Millennial’s Perspective
Symphony orchestra concerts – Where are the Millennials? Why aren’t they in our audiences? What are they interested in and what would excite them to attend classical orchestra concerts?
So many orchestra managers have lost sleep over these types of questions – including myself. As a Millennial and self proclaimed orchestra-lover, I knew there had to be others out there like me who love the art form, but perhaps they chose to participate in symphonic music in different ways than in the traditional sense of attending a concert… With these questions and more, I set out on a mission for answers. From there, my graduate research survey was born.
Through this survey, I was able to gain valuable insight into the current public sentiment around classical music and symphony orchestra performance in the 21st century and across the U.S. The survey was distributed on social media networks – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress – which may account for the lack of responses from the two oldest generations. Within ten days, however, 110 people had voluntarily participated in the survey. Out of those 110 respondents, 62 had identified themselves as Millennials. (Here’s where it gets really interesting!)
Millennials Speak Out:
What in your opinion are the biggest challenges facing symphony orchestras, especially when it comes to engaging younger audiences in live performance?
- Approximately 60% of Millennial survey participants selected “lack of interest” as their response. When answers such as, “all of the above” or “combination of expense and lack of interest” are also included, that figure increased by nearly three percentage points (to 62.9%). Across all survey participants, however, “lack of interest” was clearly the outlier (45% selected this answer).
- The second most prevalent answer among Millennials was “concert experience” (10 out of 62, or ~16%).
Contrary to common belief, “expense” is not the biggest concern for Millennials when it comes to orchestra concerts. Albeit it’s still an important and influential factor, only 6 out of 62, or ~9.7% of Millennial survey takers selected this as their answer. It appears that Millennials place greater value on relevance and appeal when making the decision to attend a symphony orchestra concert.
So where are the audiences? The young people?
Thought-Leaders Share Their Opinions:
Greg Sandow, author of The Future of Classical Music ArtsJournal blog, believes that the concert experience is at the heart of the lack of Millennials in attendance at classical symphony orchestra concerts. Other limiting factors face U.S. symphony orchestras. With increasing reliance on social and handheld technology in our modern society, Engaging Art contributing authors highlight how the interests and expectations of contemporary audiences have changed, as well as the nature of arts participation. Dan Laughey, author of Music & Youth Culture, emphasizes the connection of “youth culture”  to the energetic, social atmosphere of music clubs and other pop culture environments. Mark Shugoll, of Shugoll Research outside of Washington, D.C., suggests that aligning program offerings with such inclinations can help arts organizations become more relevant and appealing to the elusive Millennial generation patrons.
What do you think, readers?:
What is the key to symphony orchestra appeal in the eyes of our Millennial populations?
What do you think it will take for symphony orchestras in the U.S. to inspire recurring attendance among these coveted audiences?
 Catherine Starek, “Graduate Research Survey 2013 – Classical Music and Symphony Orchestra Performance,” Google Form, 2013.
 Greg Sandow, (ArtsJournal blogger), interview by Catherine Starek.
 Steven Tepper and Bill Ivey, 2008, Engaging Art.
 Dan Laughey, Music & Youth Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2006.
 Mark Shugoll, “BSO’s Symphony with a Twist,” interview by Catherine Starek, 2013.