Getting beyond the snobby stigma can reveal a world of enjoyment

The audience is one of the first things you notice when you attend a classical music concert, be it the philharmonic, the opera, or the ballet.

Particularly, who’s there and who’s not.

The audience at classical music concerts tends to conform to a specific category: fancy.

Men tend to dress in suits and ties, and women tend to don dresses and heels. When I attend these shows, I don’t follow suit.

I often look like I walked straight out of a Nirvana music video. I wear whatever I happened to be wearing that day, which is often a plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, and worn-out sneakers.

Seeing me, people would not likely expect that I am a fan of classical music. “I hope that more people look beyond their preconceived notions of what classical music concerts are.” – Tom Samoil

Photo by MITO SettembreMusica/Flickr.comAnd that embodies the problem — many people likely consider classical music to be snobby, fancy, and aristocratic.

This could be why I don’t see many people of my age group at these concerts, or many people at all.

Despite not fitting the stereotype audience at classical music concerts, I love attending these shows because of the music. I don’t go to these shows because I consider them to be high society social events. I only go to enjoy some of my favourite music pieces.

A concerted effort

The Calgary Philharmonic Orhestra does seem to be making what appears to be a conscious effort to attract new additions to their audience by presenting more accessible concert series. The Pops series and the Symphony Sunday for Kids are some examples.

The Pops series features concerts with symphonic renditions of classic rock songs as well as Broadway show tunes. By combining symphonic sounds with classic rock songs, the appeal of classical music could easily be brought to a new audience with a very different musical preference.

The Symphony Sunday for Kids series presents concerts based around children’s stories like the Hockey Sweater and Peter and the Wolf. Bringing an appreciation of classical music to children could very well help to reduce the attitude that classical music is inaccessible and elitist.

Appealing to the masses

Concerts that feature works by well-known composers like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ode to Joy concert, featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, tend to sell out.

Other CPO concerts feature less well known composers. Concerts like Rule Britannia. This particular concert featured pieces by several, far less well known composers, such as Edward Elgar.

I was able to get tickets to Ode to Joy at the last minute because I was on a waiting list for returned tickets. Part of me was disappointed that I had not called for tickets several days earlier, but another part of me was happy that this meant that some Calgarians are interested in orchestral music.

A few months later, I purchased tickets to see the Rule Britannia concert. Much to my disappointment, the audience at that concert was significantly smaller than what I had witnessed at Ode to Joy. Instead of a sold out concert hall, it would be generous to say that this concert was much more than half sold out.

What was the primary difference between these two concerts? Ode to Joy was a performance of a rather famous piece by a rather famous composer, whereas Rule Britannia was a performance of fairly unknown pieces by equally unknown composers.

It’s a good thing that composers like Beethoven are well known and can attract large crowds to performances,. But the state of classical music in Calgary would be far better if people were more willing to explore the multitude of other excellent pieces by composers that are being presented by groups like the CPO.

Support for classical music

Ticket sales are important for groups like the Calgary Philharmonic to exist, but fortunately there are willing sponsors that help to make up some of the other costs.

The list of sponsors for the CPO in their concert program features hundreds of names of individual sponsors as well as corporate sponsors. The range of donations from individual sponsors and corporate sponsors is between less than $500 and more than $500,000. Such a large group of donors could be needed due to the varying level of attendance at concerts.

While it is excellent that there are so many sponsors that donate to keep the CPO operating, it is somewhat disappointing that a group that puts on such entertaining concerts cannot operate solely on ticket sales.

What about opera and ballet?

A season for the Calgary Opera consists of three productions with three performances of each, all at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. The opera company states that they maintain a subscription base of nearly 3,400 subscribers. They also say that attendance at their concerts averages 85% of capacity of the nearly 2,500-seat Jubilee Auditorium.

With the difference in ticket sales I saw between the two CPO concerts mentioned before, it does not seem like they maintain an average of 85% capacity at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

The Alberta Ballet maintains a similarly impressive record to the Calgary Opera with approximately 78,000 tickets sold for more than 25 performances of 5 shows in the 2011-2012 season.

Accessing the music

Admission to classical music concerts is easy. Getting tickets is not a concern, in terms of availability or price.

Unfortunately, tickets to these concerts are almost always readily available. I often get my tickets the same day as the concert. The prices of the tickets come in a wide range of prices. For the Calgary Opera, tickets range from $27 to $163 dollars. Tickets to most CPO shows range from $19 to $87. Alberta Ballet tickets range from $29 to $116.

With tickets available at affordable prices, no dress code, and shows geared towards attracting new audiences, I hope that more people look beyond their preconceived notions of what classical music concerts are.

I hope they will discover and enjoy the variety of music being made available by musicians in performances throughout the city.

tsamoil@cjournal.ca