The Millennials’ Orchestra: Millennial Generation Audiences & Donors (cont.)

As a continuation of my last blog post Millennial Generation Audiences & Donors, I’m staying on the subject of technology and leveraging technology to help connect with next gen orchestra patrons.  I also begin to explore the idea of creating an orchestra concert experience and thoughts around the potential for engaging Millennials.

* * *

From a finance perspective, Stanford Professor Emeritus in Economics Robert Flanagan is wary of technology’s impact on live orchestra performance.147 Although radio and Internet have increased distribution and consumption of music, he worries that these channels have also diverted audiences and revenue away from traditional, live concert experiences.148 Nonprofit arts researcher Alan Brown acknowledges the influence of radio and other music production technologies on the public’s musical tastes, but instead sees radio as a way to broaden people’s tastes to include classical music and contemporary works by symphony orchestras.149 Brown advises broadcasters to loosen the musical boundaries around classical music and encourage listeners to experience newer works. This, in turn, may foster greater acceptance of contemporary works performed live in the concert hall.150

Engaging Millennials in Multisensory Orchestra Concert Experiences

Some symphony orchestras have already begun to explore innovative audio-visubso_WestwaterKCC_gridal performance opportunities, such as Westwater’s Symphonic Photochoreography. Founder James Westwater describes, “Symphonic photochoreography is an innovative art form that engages audiences worldwide with evocative, multi-image photographic essays choreographed and performed live to selected works of classical music.” The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has engaged in Westwater’s “Kids, Cameras and Classics™” series (image right), a program designed to promote community involvement.151

Finding common ground with community members is important, not only for making connections, but also raising awareness about the work and impact of arts organizations in society.  I think alternative orchestra concerts provide a forum that enable this to happen.152  It is not just music; it is a concert experience – a shared concert experience that becomes a story that audiences want to share with their family and friends.153 Concerts that stimulate both the visual and audio senses can be an especially effective means of engaging Millennial audiences and providing desirable symphony orchestra experiences.154

With innovative partnerships, dynamic multimedia, and exciting, multi-sensory audience experiences beginning to take hold, I encourage symphony orchestras to continue thinking outside of the traditional performance mindset, to push their creative boundaries, and connect with their audiences in a variety of ways that are relevant and interesting to them.155 Knowing your audiences takes time and stems from the development of strong relationships. With audiovisual performances, and other engaging classical music experiences to facilitate social  interaction with enthusiastic and innovative arts organizations, symphony orchestras have much to look forward to with the evolution of technology.156

This is a personal blog. “The Millennials’ Orchestra” posts are not meant to be opinion pieces, but rather founded in research, which I gathered and reported on as part of my graduate capstone project over 2012-2013. Resources are listed below.

147 Robert J Flanagan, “The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras.”
148 Ibid.
149 Alan Brown (Project Director), “Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study.”
150 Ibid.
151 James Westwater, “Community Involvemebt: Westwater Arts Photochoreography,” westwaterarts.com/involve.html.
152 Catherine Starek, “‘SEE’ the Power of Music for Audience Development!,” originally posted as a guest blogger for Audience Development Specialists, 2013, mezzaphonicallyspeaking.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/3217/.
153 Ibid.
154 Ibid.
155 Ibid.
156 Ibid.

The Millennials’ Orchestra: From The Millennial’s Perspective

“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.[1]  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.[2] Within ten days, however, 110 people had voluntarily participated in the survey.[3] Out of those 110 respondents, 62 had identified themselves as Millennials.[4]  (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?

    1. Approximately 60% of Millennial survey participants selected “lack of interest”[5] 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).[6]
    2. The second most prevalent answer among Millennials was “concert experience” (10 out of 62, or ~16%).[7]

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[8] 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.[9]  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.[10] Dan Laughey, author of Music & Youth Culture, emphasizes the connection of “youth culture” [11] to the energetic, social atmosphere of music clubs and other pop culture environments.[12]  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.[13]

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?


[1] Catherine Starek, “Graduate Research Survey 2013 – Classical Music and Symphony Orchestra Performance,” Google Form, 2013.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Greg Sandow, (ArtsJournal blogger), interview by Catherine Starek.
[10] Steven Tepper and Bill Ivey, 2008, Engaging Art.
[11] Dan Laughey, Music & Youth Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2006.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Mark Shugoll, “BSO’s Symphony with a Twist,” interview by Catherine Starek, 2013.

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.