For a while now I’ve been exploring how to better engage the classical audience. Through this topic I’ve examined some of the problems that have led to orchestras declaring bankruptcy and the creative ideas they have tried to get classical performances back on track.

One of the solutions has been the introduction of tweet seats for classical performances. I found a post a while back, where a young man reflected on his experience tweeting at a concert. Ignorant of classical music, he attended a Mobile Symphony Orchestra concert in Alabama where the highlight was Chee-Yun performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto.

Robert McClendon writes: “Given the power of her performance, I regret somewhat that I spent a few precious seconds sending 140-character missives into the swirling void of the Twittersphere. It seems obtuse, even vulgar, to try to capture something so grand using the most disposable medium since the Post-it note. However, the exercise helped transform me into more of an active listener, a true observer instead of merely an audience member. Little details that I might have missed seemed to jump out at me. Attempting to capture the concert in words forced me to think about it on a deeper level.”

The article caught my attention for two reasons:

  1. Violinist Chee-Yun performed two concerts at Strings Music Festival in 2012, and we were slightly disappointed in the lack of any sort of feedback, positive or negative, after those concerts. I wondered if we would have inspired more conversation if we had allowed tweet seats.
  2. This tweeter touched on another idea of how to build an audience. He suggests that active listeners have a greater commitment to the concert than passive audience members. 

Active Listening

Elements of active listening:

  1. Comprehending: our understanding of the message
  2. Retaining: remembering what we heard
  3. Responding: providing feedback based on the meaning of the message

active listening chart

Active listening is a tool we first hear about in school. After a lecture we may have been asked to repeat, paraphrase or reflect on what we learned via large classroom discussions, small groups or on tests or essays. If we weren’t paying attention or actively listening, we would not be able to complete those assignments. The ultimate goal of active listening is for the participant to take something away from the experience, such as certain feelings or new thoughts and information.

Active Listening in Music

When it comes to music, the majority of people are passive listeners. Music is constantly around us – we hear it in the grocery store, on TV and driving in the car. Music is so much a part of our culture that we may not even notice when it’s playing.

However, we can transform from passive listeners to active listeners. Live concerts provide a space for us to actively listen to music. It’s the one time when there are no other distractions and where the music is the main focus. It seems likely that if we are attending a concert that we want to be active listeners. We want to take something away from the experience.

It’s up to the audience to comprehend and retain during the show. But arts professionals must provide the space to respond. People want to reflect after a concert. They have thoughts, questions, observations and connections they want to share with others.

There are many ways to provide the final step in active listening. One is through digital means, such as tweet seats, Facebook pages or blog posts. Another way is through in person interaction. At Strings Music Festival, we provide a reception after Wednesday night classical concerts. This is a time for audience members to socialize with each other, the musicians, the staff and the music directors. It is important to provide multiple vehicles of communication to suit many people’s different styles.

Reception at Strings Music Pavilion

Reception at Strings Music Pavilion

Active listening is crucial to the survival of arts organizations. When people have the opportunity to converse after or during a concert, they will pay attention during the show. This will enhance the memory of the performance, including details about the specific artist and the concert venue. If they remember the venue and the positive experience there, they will be more inclined to return and buy tickets again in the future. By creating an enjoyable experience surrounding a concert, we can continue the tradition of presenting live classical music.

Posted on January 30, 2013
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