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 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?

*     *     *

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.
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,”
111 Ibid.
112 Tamsen McMahon and Roger Sametz, “Create, Sustain, Evolve: Engaging Your Organization
to Keep Your Brand Healthy and Relevant,” In Marketing/Branding,
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),
116 Ibid.


From the Top: Puppy Edition

From the Top is considered to be one of the most popular classical music programs on radio.  Hosted by acclaimed pianist Christopher O’Riley, it celebrates the dazzling performances and engaging stories of extraordinary young classical musicians.

Here’s to emerging arts leaders and having fun and expressing yourself through music! 😀

The Millennials’ Orchestra: Enabling Connectivity and Engagement Through Technology

Social media and technology has become essential to the communication and connectivity of performing arts organizations.  Used effectively, social media can help the arts establish personality, authenticity, transparency, and encourage greater audience interactivity and participation.  The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra uses a variety of social networking and multimedia tools to help promote their work and engage constituents.  The BSO is active on several major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  Links to the BSO’s social media pages can be found on the “BSO 2.0 Connect With Us”[1] page on the organization’s website, inviting people can connect to the symphony and to fellow BSO fans and providing access to a collection of BSO recordings on iTunes.  The Baltimore Symphony maintains a regular presence online, posting frequent updates, multimedia files, and expressing a variety of information.  When it comes to expanding outreach and awareness through technology, the BSO seems to be doing rather well.

  • The BSO on Facebook shares videos, recordings, images, concert/event updates, symphony news, opportunities to connect with the conductor, interesting posts related to classical music and composers, audience reactions, and fan comments.  The BSO has also enabled the Spotify app, providing listening access to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra radio free of charge.  Overall, their Facebook page certainly seems to be effective in terms of increasing visibility; it has been “liked” by more than 6,800 users.[2]
  • @BaltSymphony posts regular #tweets about concerts and events, fan comments, audience reactions, promos, and interesting, music-related articles, reaching over 7,000 followers on Twitter.  An image of the symphony’s esteemed Maestra, Marin Alsop, is used for the background, reinforcing the connection between the conductor and BSO fans.
  • BSOmusic on YouTube is especially critical to establishing this technological connection between the conductor and audience, featuring videos of backstage interviews with musicians, performances/events, season previews, conductor talks, musician conversations, and all of Maestra Alsop’s Webumentaries about the works performed by the BSO.  BSOmusic videos have accumulated nearly 140,000 views and more than 220 YouTube subscribers.[3]

The BSO has achieved success in other technological outlets through their recordings and radio broadcasts of their performances.  The Baltimore Symphony has an acclaimed recording history, receiving its first Grammy award in 1990, followed by two more in 1994, and Grammy nominations in 1997, 2000, and 2009.  The orchestra’s modern technological outreach and development has been propelled by the esteemed BSO Maestra, Marin Alsop.  Under her leadership, the BSO ventured into online distribution on iTunes beginning in 2007, featuring a series recordings and free podcasts geared towards classical music newcomers.  The orchestra also entered into a partnership with XM Satellite Radio, reaching a subscriber base of more than eight million nationwide, and with the Naxos record label.  Additionally, Marin Alsop has become a regular feature on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” with her radio segment, “Marin Alsop on Music.”  The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has also been featured on American Public Media’s highly regarded music programs, “Performance Today” and “SymphonyCast.”[4]

The use and importance of technology is made apparent in their programming and professionally designed website as well.  Although the BSO’s 2011-2012 concert season recently came to a close, there is already a buzz in the air about the future programs scheduled for 2012-2013.  The coming season will feature multimedia productions inviting audiences to “explore the energy of the film score and the art of cinema” (e.g. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, West Side Story, Hair Spray, James Bond, and Star Wars).[5]  All of this is explained, of course, in a video preview on the BSO website.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is unique, however, because they perform at two “home” locations – the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, Maryland, and Strathmore in North Bethesda.  As the Strathmore Development intern for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, my experience with BSO technology has primarily revolved around the Tessitura Network and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.  The BSO recently switched to the Cloud, which prompted the decision to upgrade security to a higher level to prevent hackers from accessing sensitive patron information.  This shows responsibility and greater accountability towards BSO constituents.

The BSO development team at Strathmore maintains open lines of communication via email, telephone, and direct mail.  Electronic invitations are sent to donors for special events, allowing for RSVP tracking online.  Email invitations are sent out to Symphony Society and Governing Society Members for pre-concert and intermission receptions held in the exclusive Comcast Donor Lounge.   As they respond, it is my job to update their individual activity histories in Tessitura.  Having a record of attendance allows us to track participation, identify potential prospects for greater giving, and to know whom to expect at the Donor Lounge on the night of the performance.

At the season finale and donor reception, photos were taken of board members (including the Board Chair), donors, guests, and the featured soloist, Nadja Salerno Sonnenburg, with Marin Alsop.  These pictures become special memento for the people who attended the event, as well as a visual reminder for potential donors to see how much fun they could be having at the BSO at Strathmore events!  Subscribing members receive additional benefits throughout the season, such as a free subscription to the Naxos online music library and special discounts.  For anyone who is curious about future performances, the BSO at Strathmore’s season brochure has been made available online, which can be accessed at any time.

The BSO has integrated the use of technology, social media, and electronic and multimedia outreach tools into the company culture, but I think the BSO at Strathmore could do more to enhance their presence online to grow the donor base and tell their story.  It is clear that the current donors are greatly appreciated, but what if they received regular “thank you” videos from the Donor Relations Manager (my primary supervisor) and the VP of Development at Strathmore?  Not only would they feel acknowledged for their contributions, the video could also be used to provide evidence of the impact of their support.  To encourage patrons to become or continue as donors, why not send them video previews of the special donor events planned for the season?  Having these videos would make it even easier for patrons to share these experiences with family and friends, which could potentially result in increased contributions and participation in future concerts and events.  To improve outreach and audience awareness, the BSO at Strathmore could even create their own Facebook page to connect with fans and further promote BSO events at the Bethesda location.

* * *

Overall, I think the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Twitter profile says it best, reinforcing the organization’s reputation as a high quality, innovative, and engaging orchestra – “The BSO is a world-class orchestra that performs regularly in two venues and has established itself as a leader in programming, technology & outreach.”[6]

[5] ibid.