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Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Audience

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As symphony orchestras and choruses across the United States have been facing diminishing audiences in recent years, an intriguing study has come to the forefront to shed light on some of the reasons behind this alarming trend. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “it was in 1994 when the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation decided it could no longer respond to individual requests to bail out floundering symphonies.” Instead, the organization launched a somewhat scientific study to determine some of the methods that would be most effective in attracting future ticket buyers to classical music. The results of this study were reported this past September in an extensive report called “The Search for Shining Eyes.”

Although this study was not directly focused on audiences of choral performances, the results would logically include many types of classical music. From 1994 through 1999 the Knight foundation gave $5.4 million to 10 professional orchestras nationwide to fund unique initiatives to generate new support for this art form. Although some of the projects proved quite successful, including “‘Mozart to Midnight,’ nonmusical development of musicians, using internet technology in teaching, and programming,” many of the grants did not offer any increase in attracting new audiences and did not help the long-term economic stability of the orchestras.

The Shining Eyes report indicates that there are large numbers of adults who had “some interest in classical music, although less than five percent actually attended concerts by their local symphony orchestra.” The single most important variable in the report that predicted future attendance at classical music performances was previous instrumental or choral training. In 74 percent of the cases studied, ticket-holders had been involved in a school choir, band, or orchestra. This research helps to validate the theory that many of us have held for many years that when you sing or play an instrument, you develop an appreciation of the melodies, harmonies, technique, and musicality that it takes to enjoy a classical performance. It helps to develop your ear as a critical listener and also exposes you to a wide variety of different styles of music, of which a large portion is usually classical. It only makes sense that the natural understanding is for a player to become a listener (while hopefully remaining a player as well).

As educators, we hold the keys to the future of our own performing art. Our students are the most likely candidates to not only attend future concerts but also to become future monetary supporters of the arts as they become non-musical and musical professionals in their chosen fields. The more we can encourage concert attendance, the greater the likelihood of a brighter future for classical music.

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