Orchestra may face uphill battle attracting youth

by Parker Perry | Reporter Published:

Finding someone to go with me to the Cleveland Orchestra, winner of eight Grammy Awards in its historic 96-year existence, was tougher than I imagined it would be.

I am in college. I am supposed to be around some of the sophisticated minds of my generation. Enjoying Ich Hab' ein gluhend Messer on a Saturday night in the company of me? I thought people would be jumping at the opportunity. I asked the cute girl in class -- not a chance. Perhaps that was not the orchestra's fault. I asked my best friend of four years. Nope. Were the roommates interested? Maybe, but they had convenient dinner plans.

I was in serious danger of having to go by myself. Who goes to the orchestra by themselves? Turns out a lot of people, but we will get to that later.

Finally, I figured out what to do. If people were not going to voluntarily go, I was going to have to force someone. I texted my little brother, who too is in college, and after complaining and groaning for an hour he agreed to go.

Pretty much no one wanted to.

The Cleveland Orchestra is going after a new demographic -- young people. And looking around at the mostly filled Severance Hall, the home of Orchestra, it appears there is still work to do. There were signs of young people, but it was minimal. Microscopic. By far most of the people that attended were older than my brother and I -- much older. But that is not because of the lack of effort.

If you are in school, getting a cheap ticket is easy. Go to the orchestra's website -- www.clevelandorchestra.com -- click the link on the front page about student tickets, send a 30-second email, and you will become a member of what is called the "Student Advantage Program." A ticket to a concert, that originally goes for around $60, will now cost only $10. And that's not the best deal that is being given to young people. The orchestra has also implemented a "Under 18's Free" program. If a family wants to attend an event, they can receive one free ticket for a child for every adult ticket they purchase.

I counted one family Saturday night. The kids, appearing to be under 10 years old, played on an iPad for most of the performance. At times, I wished I had one.

It was my first time making the trip to Severance Hall. Finding the building and parking was easy, but not cheap. We made our way up early enough that we managed to park underneath the building. It was convenient, but $11 left me a little sore. That was probably unfair on my part.

I had interactions with seven employees over the two and a half hours I was there. Every one of them was respectful and helpful. I asked some stupid questions, -- I want to say because I was testing them, but that would be a lie -- and each time they politely pointed me in the right direction and if nothing else at least had the courtesy to laugh only when my back was turned.

"Hi, which way to Will Call?" I asked.

"Behind you, sir," pointed the employee.

Again.

"Which way do I go to watch the orchestra?" I asked another.

"You can just follow the crowd, sir. They will lead you to where you need to be," the employee said gently.

Again.

"How do I find Row L?" I asked a different employee.

"The rows are in alphabetical order, sir," I received another polite reply that I did not deserve.

Severance Hall is beautiful. It's not an overly large place. It's intimate. The art that surrounded the stage and audience is pretty. And the sounds that come off the stage echo just perfectly.

When I mentioned that I was attending a concert at the Hall, I had a handful of college friends talk about playing on the stage while they were in high school. All of them described it as a positive experience. They described the auditorium as a great place to play. And they obsessed over how romantic it is.

If only the cute girl from class would have said yes.

I received seats 202 and 203. I thought this curious. It would mean that one seat was left on the end. How strange. When we found our seats, right between row K and M, it was empty. My brother joked about an attractive girl who was bound to sit next to him. It was funny because the median age had to be upper 50s or higher. Eventually the seat was filled by a lovely lady; however; just out of my younger brother's age range. She was close to 70 years old.

I decided that I was going to be polite and say hello to her. Half of the reason for doing so was my Southern Ohio courtesy I was raised with. The other half was because I wanted to know if she really enjoyed going to the Orchestra alone. The short answer, Heck yeah!

The woman went on about how much enjoyment she had listening to the orchestra play. She said that sometimes she closes her eyes and pretends to be on a beach or somewhere equally relaxing. Going alone did not at all bother her.

Severance Hall bustled with conversation while the violinist and cello players and the rest warmed. When the lights went down the trained audience hushed. Then, suddenly, first chair entered and applause filled the Hall. Then the conductor entered with another cheer. The two shook hands and immediately the group played in harmony. Looking over my co-viewers, I felt a sense of connection with the performers. At times their head swayed. Everyone around me was enjoying it, which made me feel guilty. Because the songs were like seven minutes long and I found some of them to be boring. Most of them I found boring.

Judging by the rest of the audience, I had just witnessed three or four masterpieces. And I would not be surprised if I did. Mezzo Sasha Cooke received two curtain calls after she sang as beautifully as the setting. A woman behind me could not stop herself from shouting "Bravo!" a number of times. And the entire orchestra received a ground shaking, standing ovation after they finished their last piece, Rondo alla Zingarese.

I had trouble enjoying myself. My brother did too. This by no means is to suggest that the orchestra itself was poor. Perhaps me and my bro are just uncultured, southern swine. More likely it was just not for us (and by extension a lot of people in my age range). I enjoy symphony music. I have a playlist of classical music on my Spotify. But I thought sitting and watching the orchestra play has an inherent dullness.

I have a hard time believing that the Cleveland Orchestra will have a lot of success pulling people my age and younger to Severance Hall a second time. They've out done themselves with the offers they are putting out. I would encourage young people to try it once, there is virtually nothing to lose (not even a Saturday night; the orchestra was finished by 10 p.m.). But be warned that ducking out at the intermission is looked down upon.

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