Stay On The Couch


There are many reasons people don’t go to the symphony. Some have gone in the past and don’t come back, and some don’t come in the first place. Anyone in the industry knows there are amazing musical experiences to enjoy and be a part of. So why are people choosing to stay home or do other activities when there is such a wealth of great concerts to be enjoyed?

Below I’ll list several common reasons people opt out. To make this more lighthearted and fun, let’s make this a game. Find one or two solutions to each reason without using the phrases: Great Repertoire, Guest Artist, or Your Support. Why? Because too often in this industry we don’t listen to our public and forget why people don’t return. Claiming that repertoire and/or a guest artist should be a draw alone is amateur at this level. And shaming people into the mindset that they need to show their support for their local orchestra by buying tickets is ludicrous. Why should they, what’s in it for them?

Find a creative solution or solutions for some real reasons why people stay away:

  1. The parking lot is hard to get out of after a concert.
  2. There is too much talking from the stage.
  3. People don’t know when to clap.
  4. People forget to shut off their cell phones or other disruptions from the audience.
  5. There are no restaurants near the hall. Or restaurants are not open after a concert.
  6. People don’t feel welcome yet get asked for donations week upon week after the concert.
  7. The orchestra looks bored.
  8. The seats are cramped.
  9. Finding babysitting is rough.
  10. Family of four costs more than going to the movies.

There are a number of creative solutions out there. Please send in yours and I’ll share a post with all the ideas next month. In the meantime, revisit the Yes, And philosophy. Any creative successful solution starts with Yes, And. Never with No, Because.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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5 thoughts on “Stay On The Couch”

  1. Reminds me of the work by Oliver Wyman. His Churn study found that 9 out of 10 people visiting the orchestra would never come back.

  2. I must be the 1 out of 10… in 2015-16, I started with a subscription of 9 concerts. I added a select few other concerts, probably ending the year with about 20. The following year, I added enough concerts to get me to a concert in each series, occasionally a few duplicate concerts in a series. This took me to about 60 concerts or so. Last season, 2017-18 I attended virtually 2 out of three subscription concerts, plus some special event concerts. It was a total of 10 subscriptions. This season, 2018-19, I have 13 subscriptions, plus add on special event concerts, totally about 99 concerts, plus will attend some of the summer festivals, and chamber music concerts that are played by current (and past) Philadelphia Orchestra musicians.

  3. I think it comes down to a combination of some of the above-listed factors. They all add up to an intangible sense that the ambience is stuffy, old and slow-paced. The fact is, many standard repertoire pieces are long and have stretches of music that requires patience and concentration – not easy attributes to reconcile with a world in which people get easily bored even while scrolling through their phones.

    There’s no easy solution other than programming the most exciting, visceral repertoire and cutting out the music that will bore large parts of your audience. And remind potential listeners that the orchestra can be a chance to *get away* from the hubbub of daily life.

  4. Great list and great question… although I am not IN an orchestra, I certainly have a lot of opportunities in the DC area… I will say that often, it comes down to a couple of things here for me and my wife..

    Going to a concert at the Kennedy Center, NSO tickets, parking, and dining out if we want to make a night of it (and we do!), plus a sitter for our two boys, is a very expensive evening… now, our local symphony provides world class music making, and we love to hear them… but the fact is it just costs us a lot to go…

    One option (don’t want to call it a solution), is the number of chamber concerts, or concerts in alternate venues that the National Symphony does… those can be more accessible for us, and still a great musical experience. Plus, getting to hear the musicians on a more intimate level is always a plus to us.

    I write this having no idea what the NSO’s YouTube presence Is… but I love active YouTube channels for orchestras. Interviews, short clips of concerts, ala Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall are, I think, an amazingly effective way to build an audience.

    Phew! Long answer… thanks for asking! 🙂

  5. 11. Inexperienced concert-goers feel like experienced concert-goers are the behavior police.

    I witnessed an incident where a young lady was rooting around her handbag, which annoyed the senior in front of her. He then hissed at her to stop the noise. She hissed back that she needed the eyedrops she was looking for and he should shut up. She and her friends left in a huff in the middle of the concert and never came back.


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