The Power of Free Tickets for Kids


I’ve never been a fan of complementary (comp) tickets for orchestra concerts. I’ve written about that extensively and still firmly believe that having a value attached to a ticket purchase is good for the organization. Here’s what I wrote in 2018 about the comp situation:

“Comp tickets are a bad habit! They are continually justified by people in the orchestra industry because:

    1. We want a full hall, no matter how.
    2. If people like this concert, surely, they will pay for the next.
    3. Comps are basically like a musician’s privilege or benefit; musicians don’t get paid much so they get comps to hand out to friends and family.

But here’s the brutal reality:

    1. The hall needs to be filled with the help of branding and marketing and that includes a happy and paid orchestra as part of the team in sales.
    2. Free tickets are not like cocaine, they are not addictive. Want to know what is addictive? The expectation of getting more free tickets.
    3. Professional musicians should encourage management to offer musician discounted tickets, comps further the wrong message.”

Since 2018, I’ve heard from numerous audience members and observed shifts in trends and priorities.

What we know:

  • Music education in schools is diminishing.
  • Orchestras are not typically selling out their halls.
  • Attracting younger audiences is regular challenge.

What we also know:

  • Kids learn from and emulate their parents.
  • Building future audiences for 20 years from now starts now.
  • Parents want to expose their kids to classical music, but the price can sometimes be prohibitive.

I’ve mentioned the idea of offering free tickets for kids with paying adults over the years. And while there are some organizations that do this, I’d love to see an initiative across the country.

This isn’t about the kid-specific special concerts that some orchestras already offer; it’s about integrating free tickets for children into the actual masterworks concerts.

If an orchestra, in the same breath, speaks to the frustration of not filling halls and laments that diminishing music education is causing direct harm to the appreciation/support of the art form, then why not plant some seeds by way of offering free tickets for kids with paying adults? It wouldn’t have to be for every concert, but it would certainly say a lot about building a legacy of music appreciation and support in the long term.

Research shows that early exposure to cultural organizations shapes lifelong attitudes. Offering free tickets for children not only fosters family bonding over shared experiences but also tackles the financial burden of childcare for parents.

Moreover, it seeds future audiences, as children exposed to live performances are more likely to engage with the arts as adults. Check out Joe Patti’s blog that reveals an interesting study about this!

Yet, it’s not just about free tickets; orchestras must also be innovative in how they offer their own music education and audience engagement. Orchestras can do this by offering a kids’ version of program notes or webpage activities that tie into the related concert program. In a perfect world, I’d love to see orchestras copy the National Parks by offering a program like their Junior Ranger program!

Building audiences takes decades of planning and the consistent offerings of wonderful concert experiences. Creating space for parents to feel welcome to bring their kids along should be a no-brainer.

The critics may counter with, “Well, we do have student-priced tickets,” or “People are paying hundreds of dollars for Taylor Swift concerts,” but those people are not listening to folks who really want to bring their kids to concerts. It’s time to eliminate one more barrier to the classical concert experience that families face.

Orchestras have the power to seize the opportunity and make a national effort towards accessibility and engagement. By offering free tickets for kids, orchestras can not only fill seats but also inspire a new generation of music enthusiasts, ensuring their legacy for decades to come!

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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