I have a confession to make: lately, every time I see an article or a blog post about finding ways to attract new (and presumably younger) audience members to classical music performances, I groan. Actually, I’m starting to wonder if they’re all the same piece, or at least written by the same author. Inevitably, they bemoan the aging and shrinking audience for symphony concerts/opera/chamber music/whatever and offer the exact same solution: casual clothing! Yes, if only everyone in the house (both onstage and off) was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, every performance would be sold out! People would immediately stop buying tickets to sporting events or other types of concerts and pack the concert halls!
Why am I so cynical? First, this discussion has been going on since at least the late 80’s. Second, I think the desperate, even whiny tone that articles on audience-building so often take would be enough to put anyone off classical music. Who wants to hear stuff that’s described as elitist, outmoded, and boring, regardless of what anyone in the room is wearing? Third, I’ve noticed that a number of patrons at arts events already dress casually – and those who do tend to be at least my age or my husband’s. (We’re both over 40, in case you were wondering.) So much for attracting young ‘uns.
Here’s another confession, probably unnecessary if you’ve read my previous posts or know me personally: I love to get dressed up. So does Jim. I’ve had the immense good fortune to marry a man who knows how to dress for any occasion and does so willingly. Neither of us is a particularly conventional person; we just like to look our best and keep special occasions – gasp! – special. We seem to be quite out of the mainstream in that regard, especially in an era where jeans can easily cost as much as a silk dress or a great pair of shoes.
If attendance at sporting events was in decline, do you really think management would be crying “We’ve got to get the players out of uniforms!” Would they blame the game at which they make a living? I wonder. Do I have a magical solution that will fill every empty seat in the concert hall or theater? As one who not only attends performances but takes the stage every chance I get, I wish I did. I just don’t think a mere change of clothes will do the trick, especially when accompanied by a negative attitude.Tags:aging audiences, audience building, classical music, concert hall, opera, theater