I Just Want My 3%

Thu, 6/1/2006 - 11:38am — Amy Iwano
Jun 1, 2006

As I mentioned last week, I've invited my colleague in chamber music, Marna Seltzer, Director of The University of Chicago Presents, to be a guest in my place this week.Marna and I have served together on the board of Chamber Music America, our field's national service organization, and also shared thoughts and challenges about presenting chamber music in Chicago over the years.  Our organizations are different in approach, as The Chicago Chamber Musicians fosters a resident ensemble of artists, while The University of Chicago Presents brings in artists and ensembles from elsewhere.  Marna is concluding her tenure as a chamber music presenter in Chicago, and I wanted her to have a chance to share her perspectives in this space.*******************I Just Want My 3%by Marna SeltzerFirst, I want to thank Amy for inviting me to be a guest on her blog.  The blog is a great idea and I congratulate everyone who has been a part of getting it started.  I hope it is the start of something big. This guest appearance gives me a nice forum to say goodbye and to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my work.  After seven wonderful years, I will be leaving the University of Chicago at the end of the summer.  My husband Zachary, our new daughter Penelope (who has her own blog!) and I are moving to New Haven, Connecticut, where Zach will be attending the Yale School of Architecture in the fall.  Programming and running The University of Chicago Presents has been one of the true privileges of my life and I will miss it tremendously.  When I first moved to Chicago, I remember being very impressed by the strong sense of community here. Over the last several years, I have really come to appreciate how much our community supports the Arts.  I moved to Chicago from New York City where I was working at Lincoln Center.  I can tell you that the sense of community in New York is not anywhere nearly as strong as it is in Chicago.  The praise on this site for Wynne Delacoma (richly deserved) is just one example of the support that flows between arts professionals in Chicago.  There is no doubt that there is a core of concertgoers in Chicago who are loyal, energetic and enthusiastic, and for that we should be very grateful.It is the potential audience outside of our core community that we need to be concerned with.  Reading through some of the other posts on this site, it is no surprise that everyone is thinking about audience development.  As I look back on my last 7 years as an arts presenter, I am not necessarily less optimistic than I was when I first started, but I do have firmer ideas of what we should be doing to engage audience.  For what it’s worth, here are a few of my thoughts: I tend to liken an organization’s relationship with its audience to any other human relationship that, in order to succeed and be healthy, must include certain key elements: - Know yourself before you get to know others:  Organizational identity is essential.  The more we can do to understand our own missions, the stronger we will be.  The more we can do to make our organizations unique from each other, the more vibrant our community will be.  But, most importantly, once we know who we are, we need to put a lot of effort into communicating that message.  And, we need to make sure that anyone, even the musical novice, can understand it. It may sound silly, but here I like to think about Department Stores.  In my mind, Macys, Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus are all basically the same.  On the other hand, stores like Barneys, Nordstrom, and perhaps Marshall Fields (probably not for long) have a clearer profile and merchandise that is exclusive and particular to their store.  Chicago would be more interesting if its arts organizations (big and little – not just department stores) were unique.-Trust:  We need to be completely trustworthy in every transaction we make with our audience.  Every year, when we try to sell our events or ask people for money, we make a promise about what we are going to deliver.  Simply put, if we keep that promise, and especially if we exceed the expectation that goes with that promise, we will have very happy audiences.  And, they will come back.  Even better, if they know they can trust us, they will tell their friends.  I happen to believe that word of mouth is by far the most potent marketing tool that we’ve got.-Quality:  There is no reason to be anything else but excellent.  All too often the temptation is to rely on gimmicks, or fads or marketing jargon.  Great art speaks for itself, and all people — regardless of their experience and education — are capable of recognizing what is great.  When we underestimate our audiences’ ability to recognize quality, we sell ourselves and them short. -Growth & Risk:  We all need to be open-minded.  We need to grow and take risks constantly.   We need to embrace change and we need to do whatever it takes to get outside ourselves. This does not fly in the face of having a strong, organizational identity. It simply recognizes that a good arts organization has a life of its own that must grow and evolve over time.  If we do not take risks, we shortchange our audiences and we rob them of their own chance to grow.  If an audience cannot grow by engaging with us, then we have failed and that failure will eventually limit the size and diversity of our audience.  Jim Hirsch wrote in a recent post that classical music, like so many other arts and cultural pursuits, is, and will continue to be, a good niche player. I agree with that.  Someone once told me that in the whole of the music world (including rock/pop), the classical music market will always be just about 3% of the entire market for music.  For some reason, I never forgot that and I remember thinking:  that’s okay with me, I just want my whole 3%.To all my friends and colleagues in the classical music world in Chicago – good luck and thank you.  Our community of music lovers is unique, and I count myself lucky to have been a part of it.Marna SeltzerDirector/The University of Chicago Presents (

UShaka Residency

May 31, 2006

On June 8 & 9 Opera Africa will be performing UShaka, the musical telling of the life of legendary Zulu warrior Shaka.  Seventy singers from South Africa have flown to the U.S. to bring this incredible performance to the Ravinia stage. Before the perfomance, Opera Africa will be participating in several community outreach events including a choral exchange with three professional choirs (Lira, Ngoma, and the Chicago Chamber Choir) on Friday, June 2, and with six high school choirs on Monday, June 5.  This is a fantastic opportunity for the UShaka cast and the local choirs to blend their styles, a learning experience for them both.  We are especially excited for the high school choirs, who will present a pre-concert performance before both UShaka concerts here at Ravinia. It should be very interesting to see and hear the interaction between these widely varied choirs, a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved.UShaka is also exploring the local community, bringing their unique sound and story to the Chicago Botanical Gardens on Saturday June 3 and the St. Sabina Church morning service on Sunday June 4.  We’re eager to see UShaka take an active role in the community, giving the Chicago area a glimpse of African culture.  These are all great chances to see UShaka live before their Ravinia premiere on Thursday and Friday. ~Nick Rego, Marketing InternNick is this summer's marketing intern.  He will be a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he is majoring in English and Art History. 

Drawing Kids to Classical

May 30, 2006

Some weeks ago an article (whose link is no longer available) appeared in the New York Times about a project put together by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The Society organized a group of teenagers to meet once a week to talk with the Society’s artistic directors and others about classical music, as it looks to the group to help them figure out how to reach a younger audience. I thought this was a splendid idea and called the executive director of the Merit School of Music, Duffie Adelson, to see if she could put together a group of kids to help WFMT figure out the same thing. Because although WFMT ranks 15th out of 40 stations in Chicago in total audience (about 375,000 people tune us in at least once a week) we could be doing much better in the all-important demographic category of 25 to 54 year old listeners. Saturday morning, Duffie managed to get six or seven young people together in a room to talk about WFMT. Three or four adults showed up, as well. These were young people who were already turned on to classical music and to WFMT because all Duffie did was put up a notice offering the opportunity to speak to people from WFMT. She didn’t corral them into the session -- they volunteered. In the rough order in which they came out, here are some of the ideas and observations they offered: - Put on a day-long party for young people where you talk about the station and classical music in a variety of ways. Make it fun and interesting, in that order!- Put more young musicians on the air. Not just soloists (which you already do) but chamber and larger ensembles such as bands and choirs. That will help spread the word about WFMT. - Get kids to perform on your folk music programs. There are a lot of gifted kids out there who sing folk music. - I like it when you give information about the music or the composer before you broadcast a composition. (Our announcers do quite a bit of this, and do it very well.)- Way too much opera and vocal music. (They were all in agreement about that; except one parent, who felt compelled to say her week was not complete with the opera on Saturday afternoon.)- I study the flute and I’ve met the CSO’s principle flautist, Matthew Dufour. He gave me a lesson once. I’d like to interview him on WFMT. - I’d like to co-host a shift on WFMT. I’ll pick the music and the announcer can talk to me about my choices. - From a parent: outreach! You need to get out into the community more. I’ve been listening to WFMT for 35 years and I can pinpoint the day I started. It was when Jim Unrath came to our school and gave a talk. He turned me on to WFMT and every time I heard his voice from that point on it meant a great deal to me and I've been listening ever since.- Today Rachel Barton Pine was on the air with two of her students. We caught some of it but only by accident. You should send out emails every time something special is about to happen. (Note: we send out an email blast about twice a month. Clearly, that’s not often enough.)- You need more diversity in your programming. Latin American and African American composers, for example. And newer music. Not necessarily way out stuff, but stuff that you can listen to but by younger composers who are still around. - You need to get away from the stereotypical way people think of classical music which is that it’s stern and difficult. Loosen up. When I listen I sometimes feel as if I’m “locked up in a protocol.” - Broadcast more music for band and wind ensembles because a lot of kids play in them at school. Throughout the 90 minutes we spent with these young people, we heard about two programs over and over and over again; From the Top and Exploring Music. They all loved these programs, especially Exploring Music. I was joined this morning by the producer of Exploring Music, Noel Morris, and her husband, Vic Muenzer. Both Noel and Vic are passionate about the need to introduce young people to classical music. Vic is the conductor of the Imagination Symphony in Oak Park. We were also joined by Ruth Kane, who is a development specialist and is interested in helping turn young people on to classical music. Vic and Noel recorded everything on tape. My great thanks to Vic, Noel and Ruth for joining me and coming up with some great questions. We’ll edit the tape at some point and put it on our Web site. I concluded the session by asking the young people to record endorsements for our next pledge drive, so you’ll hear some of their voices in June. If you have suggestions for ways to attract a younger audience to classical music, please post your thoughts. I think I can speak for all of the organizations associated with when I say that we’re all trying to attract young people to participate in our events, so we’d all be interested in your comments, observations and suggestions.

The Golden Age

May 30, 2006

Last Sunday's New York Times Arts & Leisure section had a front page article written by Allan Kozinn about the state of classical music. His premise is that classical music is not only quite healthy, despite all of the dire predictions to the contrary, it is in fact entering a golden age of popularity. Mr. Kozinn cites a number of statistics to illustrate his points, including the increasing number of performances presented each year, the growth of digital downloads, the number of new concert halls being built, and the fact that the "Baby Boomers" are entering their prime classical music consumption years. I agree with most of Mr. Kozinn's points but do want to make a few comments.

ESO Tells Musical Stories in June

May 26, 2006

In the past, the approach of Memorial Day weekend meant the season was officially over for all of us at the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.  But no longer! For the first time, the ESO has expanded its regular season past Memorial Day, with our final Classic Series concerts on June 2, 3 & 4.  Our 2005-2006 Season will come to a close with a program full of some of the greatest stories told through music.The centerpiece will be Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic masterpiece Scheherazade, featuring ESO’s concertmaster Isabella Lippi on violin.  Under the baton of Music Director Robert Hanson, the concert will also include Mother Goose Suite by Ravel and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas (better known as Mickey Mouse’s big number in Disney’s Fantasia).The addition of the June concert takes the ESO’s Classic Series from a seven concert series to an eight concert series, making it our biggest season to date.  It has been a long but thrilling year; we hope you can be there to celebrate its finale!