The ubiquitous standing ovation. Just about every orchestra musician that blogs has written about this topic at one point or another and most share a common thread; audience response to a lackluster performance with a standing ovation can have an unintentional demoralizing impact. During the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MO) board retreat last week, we talked about how the organization can develop its interaction with the audience and this topic popped up. But instead of warming up stale conversation leftovers, the organization’s board president, John Simmons, offered an intriguing personal encounter that is worth sharing…
My family and I have been classical music patrons for many years and I have known many of our local orchestra members all my life. When I was first asked to join our local symphony board and began to attend more orchestra functions, including parties after concerts, I always made a point of expressing my enjoyment of the evening’s program. At some point, however, it struck me that I could learn more about the music, the attitudes of the players and the success of the concert if, rather than immediately offering my congratulations on a fine concert, I first asked orchestra members how they felt the concert had gone. This was always done in an open, friendly way, and in no way suggested that I was critical of the performance. The conversations that followed were not only enlightening, but also very animated and enjoyable. As a board member I also began to learn a great deal more about the inner workings of the orchestra and the music being played. We certainly learn more by asking others for their opinion, rather than being too quick to offer our own.
– John H. Simmons, Springfield Symphony Orchestra Board President
Not only would an approach like this make Emily Post proud (after all, etiquette is all about making others feel comfortable through sincere engagement), but is serves as an excellent example for why regular musician-patron interaction should be approached as a sort of cultural preventive maintenance measure.
John’s approach is simple and thoughtful plus as he points out, it serves as a critical step in building listener confidence. All of this conspires to serve as the cornerstone for increased participation and a sincere feeling of ownership in the institution. It also serves to help musicians marginalize the cog-in-the-wheel syndrome by providing an opportunity to express individual artistic assessment (surprise: it just might differ from that of the music director!).
I challenge everyone involved in this business to find at least one opportunity throughout the next season to practice John’s approach: ask an orchestra musician how he/she they felt the concert had gone.
Over the next several months, I’d love to hear firsthand accounts so take the time to write in with your experiences and we’ll revisit the topic from time to time to see what’s been going on.