Sing and Split

My recent entries on the statistical analysis and general content of the Knight Foundation Magic of Music Final Report has gotten me thinking quite a bit lately.

I am looking forward to the report the Rand Institute produces about their study of the creation of effective arts education programs for children. I am wondering if they will present any findings about the effect of the programs on learning and the students’ lives.

One of the things I have been wondering about is the impact of modeled behavior on much debated meaning of the statistic claiming that 74% of orchestra ticket buyers had played an instrument or sung at some point in their lives.

The music department at my college holds about two choral concerts a year to which the director invites community and school choral groups to participate. This is not a competition and is programmed for balanced content. The event usually starts and ends with performances by the college groups.

Inevitably, many friends and family come just for the performance of their loved ones and then depart, sometimes paying to see someone sing for 20 minutes. Often people arrive 90 minutes into the performance having missed the first time their loved one sang–or missing them altogether. This is the case for friend/family of middle/high schoolers and college students alike.

It is entirely common to see parents taking their children home immediately after the performance. (Shades of the Joshua Bell/Tasmin Little experiments. Perhaps there is something to the claim of parents dragging kids away!-scroll down to words “The Second Issue”).

I wonder if the parents of the people surveyed by the Knight Foundation supported their activities and encouraged them to attend performances aligned with their interests when they weren’t performing themselves. (Though granted, the survey question encompasses people’s entire lives which might also include college glee club and church choir, etc).

So I likewise wonder if participation in these activities by young people today will have as strong an influence in attendance (if it does) as it did on previous generations. If parents are giving their kids the message that other people’s performances don’t warrant attention, the students may not be motivated to hone their skill or appreciation by watching another. They may also not feel that their performances have any value to the general public since so many people exit between groups. Finally, they may not have any interest in seeing someone else perform when they reach adulthood.

I have a suspicion that the Rand report on arts education may find that truly effective programs have a strong element of parental investment if they think to factor that in. Though parental support won’t necessarily resolve this problem. Many of the students I have seen get a lot of support and encouragement from family and friends making it necessary for us to shush the loud photo sessions in the lobby during the performance prior to going home.

What is interesting to me is that after 6-8 of these concerts, I have never heard anyone complain about the shifting audiences. If people are focussed on paying attention only to their loved ones, they don’t seem to be insisting that others do so as well. It would be interesting to know if this behavior and expectations of the rest of the audience is specific to the local culture or if various regions of the country act differently.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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