Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MO) — Audience Relationships
An orchestra in the "people business"
Beginning of change:
When Ron Spigelman became music director of the Springfield Symphony four years ago, he faced issues that are familiar to many conductors. The audience contained few youngsters or hipsters, and the average age of subscribers left an unsettled feeling at the box office. Spigelman believed that bolstering subscriptions would only require a few strategic decisions in artistic programming and subscriber recognition.
While many orchestras have some version of a request program whereby audience members can vote musical works onto the program, the Springfield Symphony ensures that at least one audience request appears on every program. In many cases, two or three works are heard as audience requests. The audience selects the works via request forms that are distributed at the first concert of the season. With the help of a committee, the music director plans out future seasons with these requests in mind, and incorporates the requests – often Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Mahler, and Gershwin – into the season. In the concert program, the requested works are indicated by an asterisk, giving all winning voters not only a feeling of accomplishment, but also a closer relationship with the orchestra. This type of involvement can also be found in the midst of the radio audience. Recently a listener to the local NPR station made a pledge to the orchestra in order to select a Beethoven symphony for a future concert.
The orchestra, taking hints from holiday cards, opted to send thank-you cards to all subscribers, no matter the donor level. Ron Spigelman cites Buffalo Philharmonic Music Director JoAnn Falletta for inspiring the idea. He originally took 25 minutes out of the rehearsal for the holiday program to allow each musician the time to write eleven or twelve cards. When returning to the project the following year, the musicians wanted more time to personalize each card, taking them home overnight to finish. Volunteers print the address labels and prepare postage, leaving the musicians only to write the note. This process has run uninterrupted since the thank-you program began four years ago. The musicians are happy with the process, finding the connection with audience reciprocal; the project has engendered good will and camaraderie.
With the focus on the audience as individuals, the retention rate of subscribers has increased to 97 percent and the number of subscribers has increased by 50 percent, moving from 800 to 1,200. Many anecdotal audience responses have given validity to these programs. For example, audience member William Brandon Bowman wrote, “Each ticket holder, patron or corporate sponsor feels an immediacy of involvement in music selection, performance venue, familiarity with each instrumentalist, and programming format. The symphony is ‘family’ and invites personal and immediate involvement through wonderful outreach. Make no mistake, there are monthly concerts which Springfieldians fight to attend!”
For additional info contact:
His blog Sticks and Drones, co-authored with conductor Bill Eddins, can be found at http://www.adaptistration.com/sticksanddrones.