You’ve Cott Mail: Some thoughts on how to connect Millennials with classical music

In the May 1st, 2014 edition of You’ve Cott Mail, the topic of conversation was how to connect Millennials with Classical Music.  Copied below are some of the thoughts shared around this topic.  In what’s to come, some of the key factors in engaging Millennials emerge – the importance of trust and social consciousness, consideration of themed programming and relaxed atmosphere in entertainment, and breaking convention through social technology.  These examples, of course, could never speak for an entire generation and (heads up) they certainly shouldn’t reduce Millennials down to whiny, pot-smoking, sex-crazed social media users in our minds’ eye.  I think these authors are simply pointing out that each generation has different interests and expectations that require different kinds of attention.  It is also important for long-standing art forms and those who run our cultural institutions to remain open to change and be welcoming to all generations through their outward approach and community involvement, organizational innovation and programmatic offerings, and social atmosphere.

Would you agree/disagree?  What are your thoughts on how to connect Millennials with Classical Music? I’d love to hear from you.

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You’ve Cott Mail: Some thoughts on how to connect Millennials with classical music
May 1, 2014

COMMENTARY: To attract millennials, be more socially conscious
Cellist/composer Peter Sachon on his blog, 4/8/14

Orchestras need to offer compelling reasons for millennials to make live symphonic music a part of their lives.  After all, millennials are the largest generation in human history, and at nearly 90 million people they will very soon make up the vast majority of our orchestras’ stakeholders, constituents, audience, staff members and supporters – and instrumentalists.  By 2017, they will surpass the buying power of the baby boomer generation.  There is simply no generation in the next forty years that will have the size and potential purchasing power to influence American orchestras more than millennials.  While orchestras aren’t the only institutions that have abandoned the young, they can still be among the first to reclaim them — and in so doing they can begin to reclaim the position of live orchestral music in American culture. These millennials have very different expectations for nonprofits than baby boomers.  Their expectations that nonprofits be socially conscious institutions goes beyond what is traditionally expected, especially from performing arts organizations.  Being able to trust a nonprofit organization and its mission is very important to compelling millennials to attend and donate.  One telling statistic is that nine out of ten millennials would stop giving to an organization that had lost their trust.  American classical institutions’ stoic reactions to human rights abuses is making that trust difficult to develop.  For example, when Pussy Riot was sentenced to two years in a labor camp for a peaceful political protest, many of those 90 million American millennials along with people like Madonna, Sting, Yoko Ono, Björk, Moby, Peter Gabriel, and more than a dozen international papers as well as the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the New Yorker Magazine all publicly supported Pussy Riot’s human right to peaceful protest.  And yet, even after so many people across a range of musical and intellectual disciplines voiced their support, not one American orchestra dared even a tweet. Things were no different after Russia enacted Putin’s outrageous anti-gay law.  The Metropolitan Opera attempted to be detached from the controversy while protesters pointed out that two of Putin’s most visible supporters led the Met’s season-opening production.  The famed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, refuses to speak out against Maduro’s government, even after students were beaten and arrested during his concertizing in Venezuela. Orchestras can play at being apolitical, but their choices have political resonance whether they like it or not.  Given how important trust is to millennials’ interactions with nonprofits, the idea that institutions should refrain from voicing widely-held human rights positions is silly and counter-productive.  The worry of upsetting existing donors pales in comparison to the danger posed to orchestras who undervalue the changes brought by the millennial generation. It also doesn’t hurt that speaking out against human rights abuses is the right thing to do.

Connecting classical music to millennials with bring-your-own-marijuana concerts
Ray Mark Rinaldi, The Denver Post, 4/29/14

The cultural revolution that is making marijuana part of everyday Denver life conquered another established front Tuesday as the Colorado Symphony Orchestra announced a series of performances sponsored by the cannabis industry. The concerts, organized by pro-pot promoter Edible Events, will start May 23 with three bring-your-own marijuana events at the Space Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe arts district and culminate with a large, outdoor performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13. The events are being billed as fundraisers for the CSO, which will curate a themed program of classical music for each show. While acknowledging that the arrangement is unusual, even groundbreaking, CSO executive director Jerry Kern said the concerts will help the orchestra reach beyond its conservative, fine arts demographic while raising money for an organization that has struggled financially in recent years. “We see ourselves as connecting classical music with all of Colorado,” said Kern. “Part of our goal is to bring in a younger audience and a more diverse audience, and I would suggest that the patrons of the cannabis industry are both younger and more diverse than the patrons of the symphony orchestra.”  The connection between classical music and marijuana culture is surprising on its surface. But the partnership may be logical for the CSO in particular, which has worked hard in recent years to present a more democratic lineup. It still has its Beethoven and Brahms concerts, where cellists dress in tuxedos and tradition rules, but it has been playing more contemporary music and collaborating on concerts with pop acts. Orchestra musicians are already set to play Red Rocks shows Aug. 8 and 9 with Pretty Lights, one of the biggest acts in electronic dance music, a genre widely associated with marijuana and harder substances like Ecstasy.  As trumpet player Justin Bartels points out, the musicians have already smelled the waft of marijuana smoke at shows, and playing before mind-altered audiences won’t be shocking. “Denver is a different kind of city, and you have to program your orchestra for the community you’re in,” he said.

COMMENTARY:
To attract millennials, dancers twerk to classical music
Joel Eastwood, Toronto Star, 4/23/14

You rarely use the words “twerking” and “classical music” in the same sentence. But that’s the only way to describe a controversial new music video that fuses a piece of classical music with a gyrating, scantily clad Korean dance troupe. The eye-popping video was masterminded by a Belgian classical music festival in a bid to bring a century-old symphony to new ears. It seems to have worked — the clip has racked up more than 1.7 million views in the past week. “It is indeed a very different clip than your average YouTube clip,” explained Frank Peters, a Dutch classical pianist and the spokesperson for the B-Classic music festival, in a short documentary accompanying the music video. “I’m not convinced that youth are uninterested in classical music. I think that it’s simply more difficult for them to discover,” said Sam De Bruyn, a radio DJ in Brussels. Because YouTube has become an essential engine for discovering and listening to music, an engaging music video is essential to grabbing people’s attention, De Bruyn said. So the B-Classic music festival commissioned director Raf Reyntjens to make the video with Korean pop-dance group Waveya, who are YouTube stars in their own right. Unlike the pop songs they normally move to, the dancers are twerking to Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, composed in 1893. Dvorak, who lived from 1841 to 1904, was a rock star in his day. “Everywhere he went, something happened, the atmosphere changed, and people were enraptured and moved by his music,” Peters said. The video tries to reignite that popularity with a new generation. But not everyone thinks classical twerking is an appropriate combination. “It comes across as hollow and trashy,” writes Michael Vincent on the classical music blog Musical Toronto. Other commenters argue classical music doesn’t need to resort to modern dance moves to stay relevant. “The two just don’t connect for me and, to be honest, it feels somewhat embarrassing,” writes Clyde Smith on Hypebot.  Regardless, the critics might be in for more disappointing videos — B-Classic is calling on people to create their own Classical Comeback videos “to give classical music the audience it deserves.”

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.

Google Hangout: Engaging Younger Audiences in the Concert Hall

Sign of the times — Blogger, composer, and thought leader, Chip Michael arranged a Google Hangout (Check back later this week – I will be posting more about the benefits of Google+ for the arts) through Twitter via #AudNGage.

Members of the hangout included Chip Michael, Jo Johnson (Digital Marketing Manager for the London Symphony Orchestra), Shoshana Fanizza (Audience Development Specialist), Mark Harris (musician/composer), and myself (arts management grad student).

What do you think is the best way to engage young adults in the classical music and symphony orchestra concert experience??  I would love to hear your ideas!