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David Patrick Stearns Gets It

The 05/30/2007 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer published an excellent article by David Patrick Stearns which examines the dynamic value of free and subsidized cost classical music events…


In the article, Stearns quotes Free For All At Town Hall, a nonprofit organization which presents “great musicians in concerts that are free to the public in spaces that are good for both the music and the audience,” cofounder Omus Hirshbein as saying this about how they manage to present such an exceptional classical music concert series:

“You know that classical-music concerts never cover their costs…why not raise more money and give it away?”

Kudos to Stearns for highlighting such a simple, yet spot-on, philosophy behind how presenting classical music should be approached. Consequently, I’m equally pleased to see mention of Philadelphia Orchestra’s recent efforts to increase the number of free concerts they offer each season. I remember a previous article of the Inquirer where incoming Philly Orchestra President & CEO James Undercoffler was quoted as saying it was one of his priorities to find ways to increase the number of free concerts and lower ticket prices. I’m glad to see the Inquirer is keeping tabs on those efforts.

Furthermore, kudos to Free For All At Town Hall’s mission. It is clear that this organization understands the core elements for building a successful classical music organization:

  • Artistic Quality First
  • Favorable Location and Audience Environment
  • Conducive Pricing

  • I hope orchestras will take a long look at Stearns’ article and visit Free For All At Town Hall’s website to learn more about the organization.

    One Response to David Patrick Stearns Gets It

    1. Geo. June 7, 2007 at 6:52 pm #

      Embedded in Omus Hirshbein’s comment is the problem at the heart of the whole issue of concert costs, regarding “why not raise more money”? The question is: from whom? Would the funds be mainly from a relatively small base of the super-rich, or do you want to have a broad base of donor support across all incomes?

      While this next anecdote isn’t about classical music, it’s somewhat relevant, as it’s about the free summer Shakespeare local production. This year, we have a challenge grant during the run of the show, to raise donations in real time through the last performance. From personal experience “passing the hat”, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of people who go to the play do not give one thin dime. Many who do give do so quite generously; five people don’t donate, but the neighboring person gives $10. Overall, ballparking it, so far, it works out that maybe we have 50 cents per person on average for donations. But essentially, it is the relatively savvy few who subsidize the relatively indifferent many. It’s fair to say that just about everyone appreciates the production, but it’s another thing to translate that into “hey, this costs a lot to put together, how about helping out a little?”.

      We had the same challenge last year, and we got in under the wire. I don’t know how well we’ll do this summer. If the rain doesn’t knock out a few shows, we have a shot (setting myself up for a jinx, of course).

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