Wouldn’t it be great if audiences came into orchestra concerts like this?
Many of you know that I believe that Bach and Boombox can get more butts in the seats at orchestra concerts – well now I have proof.
Recently, I performed the Haydn C Major Concerto with the Lawton (OK) Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the wonderful Jon Kalbfleisch, an old friend from my Washington, DC days, and a Lawton native. While I was there, I gave several school presentations of my Bach’s Kids program, performing for over 2,300 students.
Of the 480 people in the audience at the Saturday night concert, around 100 of them were there because of the school visits – we gave out 57 student tickets (four times the usual amount) and their parents bought 45 more! For those of you keeping score at home, that’s over 20% of the audience. I bet most orchestras would love to boost their attendance numbers that much, especially while also fulfilling their educational mission.
Lest you think I’m taking all the credit here, I was collaborating with some very smart and committed people. Lawton (population around 97,000) is an Army town – Fort Sill is located there, and is the main driver of the local economy. The LPO has an active duty board member from the base, and there are always military members in the audience. Like any orchestra, the LPO has to stay connected to the community, and luckily, they have both a Music Director and Executive Director who are especially good at that.
Jon Kalbfleisch is a great musician and colleague, making all the musicians (including nervous soloists!) feel welcome and excited to do their best, and he is equally good with the LPO’s board and supporters. Jon is relentless in his efforts to keep his hometown orchestra not just surviving, but thriving. Many larger orchestras would be delighted to have someone with his level of both musical and people skills, and Lawton is lucky to have him.
Executive Director Patty Neuwirth came to the orchestra after running several Burger King franchises in the Lawton area, and after seeing her at work, I am now convinced that all arts administration professionals should intern at a fast food restaurant. From her years in a ferociously competitive industry, Patty is focused on the bottom line, has relationships with every business owner in the city, and perhaps most important – she knows marketing. From the moment I hit town, I saw signs about the concert everywhere, on lawns, in store windows and even at intersections:
Ego trip aside, I was impressed with Patty’s willingness to spend real money on advertising– many orchestras aren’t this visible. And it didn’t stop there – there was newspaper coverage and we did a ticket giveaway on the local news, too:
It was a pleasure to work with Jon and Patty, and of course the chance to play the Haydn was a joy. And I was especially grateful that they gave me the chance to show that Bach and Boombox could boost concert attendance, and I’d love to do the same for any orchestra that wants to.
So, if you run an orchestra (or know someone who does), and want to get more people to come to your concerts, please call or e-mail – I am fully committed to helping grow your audience, and I will travel anywhere in the country to do so (with or without playing a concerto!).
One more thing about those attendance numbers – they are the result of just a couple days work. My fee for the school visits came from a modest grant from a local foundation, and was quite a bit less than the orchestra was paying me to play the Haydn. And we can get young professionals to show up too, by presenting the program in a bar, meeting room, church or business. I’ll be doing presentations for adults on behalf of orchestras in Cincinnati and Columbus this summer, and I’ll be sure to report back about the results. In the meantime, the phone lines are open!
Till next time,