Drawing Kids to Classical

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.


Mr. Robinson, I do not

Mr. Robinson, I do not think that altering the character of the station would attract the young generation to WFMT. We would just loose the only classical station still alive. How can you make a child enjoy classical music? The answer is "exposure". Give them a chance to listen to good quality classical music. For exposure, organize school field trips to morning rehersals or matinees. Request the Board of Education to put classical music back into the class. Start with Mozart's piano pieces and Rossini's overtures. For Opera, play DVDs with The Barber of Seville, Die Fledermaus and Hansel and Gretel. Make them understand the value of classical music and the beauty that lies in its complexity and they will search for WFMT on their own. We would all like to see our children return to the real values in art, music, life...But we do not offer them the chance to reach these values.

no more kids on WFMT

Hello Mr. Robinson,

Thank you for your post and your WFMT blog.

I'm afraid I'll voice my opinion that, given your original goal to raise more listeners in the coveted 25-54 y.o. category, more kids talking on WFMT would be a distinct turn-off.
Unless you hope to engage the kid's parents, how would this help attract the desired demographic?

Your program, "From the Top," already offers a sufficiency of young people chatter and I assiduously avoid the broadcast.

As to kid's opinions of whether or not there is too much vocal or opera on WFMT, I give not a whit of credence to their judgement or opinion. I enjoy ALL of the vocal and operatic programming that your radio service does so well.

Bande and wind ensemble music can be done marvelously well and the various groups that do it well are usually at the college or adult level. Please spare us the inevitable torture of a high school version.

I'm not a Midnight Special or Folkstage listener. However, kids singing folk music I will also take a pass on that as well.

Having representatives from WFMT get out into the community is excellent advice and would be welcome at schools, universities and job fairs.

Please don't go to any more kid's programming. Where did you ever get the notion that your core audience would endorse this pandering?

Classical Music for Urban Youth

How about an outreach program for urban youth? How about more access to free resources from WFMT? Not everyone can afford to contribute, so maybe some freebies like a couple of podcasts a month would spike some interest.In case anyone thinks the youth aren't inspired by the violin, check out Nuttinbutstrings and Miri Ben-Ari. No matter how the media portrays it, hip hop is a powerful youth movement that, in it's purest form, provokes thought.paix, mes amis!

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