The Millennials’ Orchestra: Changing Styles of Engagement

“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: Changing Styles of Engagement

The prominence and use of technology is one of the most distinguishing factors of the Millennial generation.101 Authors of the Pew Research Center’s comprehensive study Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, consider Millennials to be the first “always connected” generation.102 The increased use of social media and mobile Internet is readily apparent.103 Aaron Smith, author of the Pew Internet & American Life Project gadget survey, reveals in an interview with NPR that 96% of the Millennials in the U.S. own cellphones and are accessing information in different ways, even when compared to just a few years before.104

Carolyn Boiarsky, Journal of Popular Culture contributor, acknowledges the influence of technology on young adults, referring to those raised in the “Electronic Age” as the Nintendo or N-generation.105 The National Endowment for the Arts106 and Pew Research Center107 reveal the multimodal tendencies of the Millennial generation, reflecting their preference for more personalized and media-based creation, expression, and arts participation.108  Boiarsky also notes how members of the Millennial generation are more visually and kinesthetically oriented in a digital and electronic world.109 Westwater’s Symphonic Photochoreography110 may be one way to address such needs, enhancing the experience of symphony orchestra performance and engage Millennials through relevant technology. Symphonic photochoreography combines video projections with symphony orchestra performances to create a synchronized concert experience that incorporates classical music with dynamic, digital imagery.111  Pointing to the social nature of Millennials, Tamsen McMahon and Roger Sametz of MarketingProfs.com emphasize the need for marketing professionals to create, sustain, and evolve in the “Age of the Social.”112 It is important to note that much of this 21st century social interaction occurs online, and increasingly through the use of mobile technology.113

Regarding classical music engagement, audiences can be categorized in a variety of
ways. Henk Roose of Acta Sociologica categorizes classical music audiences based on aesthetic inclinations (or musical tastes), socio-demographics (social and demographic factors affecting status in society), motivations, and frequency of attendance. In this way, Roose recognizes three categories of classical music audiences: passers-by, interested participants, and inner circle.114 Alan Brown with Audience Insights LLC has idenCircles of Valuetified seven layers of value associated with attending live classical music performance by U.S. adults, including both intrinsic (artistic or educational; spiritual; healing/therapeutic) and extrinsic (ritual/ambiance; social interaction; relationship enhancement; occasion) values (pictured left).115 In addition to these considerations, Brown’s Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study examines how classical music consumers relate (or perceive their connection) to their local symphony orchestras.116

The National Endowment for the Arts released a new media report in 2010, discussing the influence of technology on arts participation and exploring the concept of Audience 2.0 – or the ways in which “Americans participate in the arts via electronic and digital media”117 In this report, the NEA examines participation among U.S. adults (18 to 75+ years old)118 in benchmark arts activities. “Benchmark arts activities include jazz, classical music, opera, musical plays, non-musical plays, ballet performances, and visual arts.”119 Respondents are divided into four participant segments based on their inclination, or disinclination, to engage in the arts through media, live performance, or both.120 Segments included those participating through both electronic media and live attendance; electronic media only; live attendance only; neither electronic media nor live attendance.121

Given the choice, how would you prefer to engage with your local symphony orchestra in the classical music concert experience?

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101 Pew Research Center, 2010, “Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change.”
102 Ibid.
103 National Public Radio,”Survey: 96 Percent of Young Adults Own Cellphones,” 2010,
published electronically, October 18, 2010. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130639028.
104 Ibid.
105 Carolyn Boiarsky, “This Is Not Our Fathers’ Generation: Web Pages, the Chicago Lyric
Opera, and the Philadelphia Orchestra,” Journal of Popular Culture, 36 (Summer 2002): 14-24.
106 Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard and Alan S. Brown, “Beyond Attendance: A Multi-Modal
Understanding of Arts Participation,” 104: National Endowment for the Arts, 2011.
107 Pew Research Center, 2010, “Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change.”
108 Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard and Alan S. Brown, “Beyond Attendance.”
109 Ibid.
110 Dr. James Westwater and Nicholas Bardonnay, “Westwater Arts: Home,” http://westwaterarts.com/home.html.
111 Ibid.
112 Tamsen McMahon and Roger Sametz, “Create, Sustain, Evolve: Engaging Your Organization
to Keep Your Brand Healthy and Relevant,” In Marketing/Branding, http://www.sametz.com/news-and-articles/authored-articles/430-create-sustain-evolve.
113 Amanda Lenhart, Kristen Purcell, Aaron Smith, and Kathryn Zickuhr, “Social Media &
Mobile Internet Use among Teens and Young Adults,” In Millennials: A Portrait of Generation
Next, Washington, D.C., 2010.
114 Henk Roose, “Many-Voiced or Unisono? An Inquiry into Motives for Attendance and
Aesthetic Dispositions of the Audience Attending Classical Concerts,” Acta Sociologica, 51, no.
3 (2008): 237-53.
115 Alan Brown Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study: How Americans Relate to Classical Music and Their Local Orchestras. Southport, (Connecticut: Audience Insight LLC, 2002), http://www.polyphonic.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/2002_Classical_Music_Consumer_Report.pdf.
116 Ibid.

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The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger Symphony Audiences and Donors in the Classical Music Experience

The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger Symphony Audiences and Donors in the Classical Music Experience

Millennial generation – “Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials – the American teens and twenty-somethings (ages 18-29) who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium – have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.”[1]

YouTube Symphony Orchestra
Sydney, Australia 2011

It is no secret that symphony orchestras are facing hard and changing times.  In addition to the challenges posed by the struggling economy, symphony audiences are continuing to increase in age as overall attendance continues to decline (Alan Brown’s Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study and Thomas Wolf’s “The Search for Shining Eyes”).  This decline has been most dramatic among young adults over the past thirty years.  Without adequate numbers of younger people to eventually replace current audiences, the future of symphony orchestras in the US has been called into question.  Despite the doom and gloom of bankruptcy announcements and foreclosures in the world of symphony orchestras, some organizations are managing to adapt and survive through innovative programming and by offering greater opportunities for audience engagement.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra have gained attention for their ability to engage 21st century audiences in the concert experience through 21st century means – the BSO’s Off the Cuff and Webumentaries series; Brooklyn Phil’s Beethoven Remix (click here for finalists) and collaboration with Mos Def; San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score and conductor MTT’s TEDTalks; Chicago Symphony’s Beyond the Score; and Detroit Symphony’s webcasts.  I believe that engaging the Millennial generation as members of the audience and as donors will increase the potential for these symphony orchestras, as well as other arts organizations, to maintain and sustain future success.  Not only would this help fill an ever-growing void in audience attendance, it would also lend to renewed interest and excitement in orchestral work and foster future generations of support for music and the arts.

As a member of the Millennial generation, I am excited to meet and talk with other Millennials who are passionate about symphony orchestras, classical music, and the arts.  As arts managers we must know how to attract and engage these individuals in ways that resonate with their rapidly evolving interests and needs (Pew Research Center – Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next) , while retaining the current audiences and donors already supporting our organizations.  In general, Millennials are eager to get involved, take on leadership roles, and contribute time and money to philanthropic efforts in nonprofit organizations (see Millennial Impact Report).  Symphony orchestras are beginning to take notice and placing greater emphasis on engaging these younger audiences and donors in exciting and relevant ways.

It is an honor to be the guest host of #ArtsMgtChat in the upcoming discussion The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger Symphony Audiences and Donors in the Classical Music Experience.  I look forward to hearing your ideas on engaging Millennials in the performing arts!

Discussion questions:

  1. As an arts consumer and arts manager, what are some of the major barriers to symphony orchestras and classical music?
  2. What are professional symphony orchestras doing well to engage the Millennial generation?
  3. What role(s) do Millennials play in and for your organization?
  4. How much priority should Millennials be given in the nonprofit arts?
  5. What marketing strategies does your organization have in place for targeting and attracting younger audiences?
  6. Does your organization have development programs and/or opportunities for younger donors?
  7. How important is mobile and social media technology for engaging audiences and donors?
  8. How have you been involved with music in your life?

[1] PewResearchCenter, 2010, Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change, In Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, edited by Paul Taylor and Scott Keeter: Pew Research Center.