CLASSICAL AUDIENCES WANT to have A Unique Concert Experience


Classical Audiences want to have something exceptional.  They love the sense that this is a shared experience, but one from which they can each take away something personal and special. They love the uniqueness and excitement of a live performance, the sense that it is a one-off, an experience created there and then.

They love the  enjoyment being shaped by watching star performers and hearing new interpretations. They like that live experience offers authenticity: it allows concert attenders to experience the work of performers whom they know they like, but in a live capacity: therefore, witnessing performance quality in the most direct way possible, as well as being privy to a performance by a well-regarded player that will never be repeated exactly.

The importance of shared ethos and experience when attending classical concerts has been expressed by many people.  Sharing social experiences, including using arts events to 'build bridges' with distant acquaintances.

It has already become evident that the live nature of classical performance mediates the influences of familiarity: making unfamiliar works engaging and accessible, while also helping to retain experienced listeners' interest in familiar music performed.

Concerts are viewed as unrepeatable entities that could only be experienced through the action of deciding to attend, and so in this capacity the unpredictable and therefore distinctive nature of live experience is a primary attendance motivation.



Many people see the arts as separated completely from the world of the ordinary, mundane, and every day. Each classical concert is a living, unique event that is constitutive of (not set aside from) social life.  While an important part of the event is its role in facilitating engagement, a recorded performance may supply 'perfection' but can it also convey a combination of 'enthusiasm', 'personal expression', and 'character ‘a personal, individual experience?

The capacity for variance, a sense of uniqueness, and the immediacy of the experience creates anticipation in the concert goer. 

Enjoying the classical concert as an event (rather than merely as a performance) can come from engaging with the music/performance and/or with one's inner dialogue. 

We have so many components happening simultaneously in our organ and multi-media concerts that help transport a concert goer to another place, another world. Johann Sebastian Bach couldn’t have written harmony more tightly woven than these experiences. Orchestrated in our dramatic concerts is that the whole truly becomes one. It is why people are transported. 

In live performances, people are lifted from the present to another place. Live performances are experiences for the senses.

Concert goers commented on live concerts as…a holistic perception that was greater than the sum of its parts… in live performances you get to know the pieces and the artists…the concert hall's a detachment from everyday life…it is some form of 'sacred space…in the simple audience context…they will be invested with a sense of the sacred.

Classical audiences want you to expand their Interest


The audience wants to feel familiar with what is happening. When they feel “safe,” they then want you to expand on their interests. To expand on what they know to a new space.

They want a combination of novelty and familiarity: the warmth of familiar favorite pieces and the excitement of unfamiliar works,  appreciating the mixture of loved and familiar with new and interesting,  making unfamiliar works engaging and accessible, while also helping to retain experienced listeners' interest in familiar music performed.

Going to a concert keeps you on the edge of your seat. 

Listening to music from a CD is an opportunity to relax, however going to a live concert is much more stimulating. With eyes, ears; the presence of the space, and feeling involved, it’s all-encompassing.

Concert-goers experience that no matter how well they think they know a piece, when hearing it live, they hear something new.

Classical audiences want to feel that they are engaged in the performance, that they are part of the communication. Primarily they don’t want to feel patronized or bored.  Different audiences want different things but ultimately, they want to feel part of what’s going on . 

Classical Audiences want you to make use of new technology


California Symphony’s executive director Aubrey Bergauer says, "I warned them I was going to do things differently." 

Unlike many orchestras that try to appeal to younger audiences (in the symphony world, "younger" means "under 60"), Bergauer and Donato Cabrera, the California Symphony's music director and conductor, didn't start with the premise that there was something wrong with the music itself.

"People think that to bring in younger audiences you need 'The Symphony Meets the Beatles,' but a Beethoven symphony is amazing to anyone. You don't have to 'symphonize' pop music," Cabrera says. "We needed to change the experience, not the repertoire."

People outside the organization have taken note. "She's recognized that, as a field, we tend to be ritualistic about how we do things and how we’ve operated behind a sort of veil," says Jesse Rosen President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras. 

"She's focused on the quality of the experience, beginning with how an orchestra comes across online, and worked to make it more in line with contemporary audiences. She's a gifted leader who's getting good results."

Participants in a focus group noted that the lack of visual stimuli contributed to a feeling of being 'disconnected' or 'distanced' during the concert. “When you can watch, you can focus more easily.”   When they were purely listening to music with which they had little affinity, it was easy to become disengaged. However, they experienced the event becoming 'personalized' through the ability to see or interact with the performers, as was the case in the other concerts.

Being aware of the audience's expectations.

Thus the presence of novelty in a classical concert perhaps reemphasizes live classical listening as a distinctive, special experience, as it is distinguished by a greater period of anticipation from the more immediate gratification of recorded listening.

Visual cues are indispensable in helping the listener to [accept] every event just as it comes and [resist] the temptation to fight each one by comparing it with a private version. 

Multimodality in the 21st century has caused educational institutions to consider changing the forms of even its traditional aspects of classroom education. According to Hassett and Curwood, authors of Theories and Practices of Multimodal Education, “Print represents only one mode of communication…” and with a rise in digital and Internet literacy, other modes are needed, from visual texts to digital e-books. 

Other changes occur by integrating music and video with lesson plans during early childhood education; however, such measures are seen as augmenting and increasing literacy for educational communities by introducing new forms, rather than replacing literacy values.

The same holds true for classical music. We don't need to replace the crucial values of Classical Music but can introduce new forms of presenting it.

Classical Audiences want a mix of emotion, technique,


While attending a narrative-based performance requires concentration and memory in order to make sense of the work (Woodruff, 2008), the enjoyment of a classical concert as an event (rather than merely as a performance) can come from engaging with the music/performance and/or with one's inner dialogue.

Lydia Goehr's (1992) book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works consolidates this idea by examining the rise of the 'work concept' in the late eighteenth century, especially through what she terms the 'separability principle', by which 'it became the custom to speak of the arts as separated completely from the world of the ordinary, mundane, and everyday'. (Goehr, 1992: 157) This quote also demonstrates how going to concerts inevitably involves a degree of risk (cf. Radbourne et at., 2009). Unlike a recording or a film, it is impossible to read a review of the exact 'product' before you 'buy' it; but, counter-intuitively, expectations about the performance may be higher, generated by the anticipation of seeing a unique performance that is therefore a rarer commodity than more widely available mediatized products.

A description of enjoyment being shaped by 'watching star performers, hearing new interpretations'  reiterates that live experience offers authenticity: it allows concert attenders to experience the work of performers whom they know they like, but in a live capacity: therefore witnessing performance quality in the most direct way possible, as well as being privy to a performance by a well-regarded player that will never be repeated exactly.

 Attending live performances was important to the participants because it provides access to experiencing live sound, which increased the degree to which the listening experience was perceived as 'holistic'. 13% of questionnaire respondents indicated that either the hall's acoustics or the quality of live sound contributed to making concert attendance an enjoyable experience: Live music is what matters most in music appreciation. To hear live sound, well played in a good acoustic setting ... ah! [Q117/Calum]

One respondent described 'seeing and hearing world class performers capturing one's whole being', while another characterized live concerts as 'an experience for the senses’. 

These descriptions relate to recent research in music cognition which has found that when participants can both see and hear a performance (as opposed to visual-only or auditory-only conditions) higher levels of physiological arousal are observed, leading to the conclusion that 'the interaction between the two sensory modalities conveyed by musical performances created an emergent property, a holistic perception that was greater than the sum of its parts'.

For audience members who do not seek a primarily auditory experience, visual details therefore enhance the concert experience: allowing audience members to regard performers as people.  This idea relates to Becker's assertion that a musical event is not just in the minds of the participants, it is in their bodies; like a vocal accent in speaking, emotion in relation to musical listening is personally manifested, but exists supra-individually.

Classical Audiences want theme programming

10 things classical audiences want

 Felix Mendelssohn understood the need for theme programming 

The theme creates an arc during a concert that engages all listeners, regardless of their level of music literacy. When people are presented with a series of ideas, they instinctively form connections. When the connections are obvious, a whole audience will walk away with the same set of obvious connections. 

Themed concerts can create a 'collective experience' among audience members as a key determinant of 'performance quality.’ This can greatly enhance the 'affective experience', or simply 'enjoyment of the performance as a whole'.

All pieces of music tell stories. They emanate from a certain cultural milieu, and if nothing else, they describe stories of their own creation. In shaping a program around a theme, any theme, one considers that the music itself becomes limited by the idea which it serves. On the contrary, this new storytelling idea, itself often contained within larger ones, and filled with other smaller stories, can inspire and move the participants into a new journey, a fresh relationship.

What is a Theme and Why is it Important? A theme is a dominant thought, a unifying vision, a moral. It is the central idea behind your concert. A theme communicates a kind of truth about the way human beings act, think, or feel.

Why should you use themes in your programming?

Themed­ concerts can be edifying and entertaining for students and concert ­goers alike. They are a welcome diversion from the usual potpourri of concert pieces.

A themed concert may contain a few selections of a theme or the entire repertoire may be along the chosen theme. Program notes can tell why you selected a theme and contain relevant information or fascinating tidbits about the theme. No music group is too young or too old to have a theme-oriented concert.

Want to make the concert extra fun? Use student narration or video. For example, for the theme of “dance,” before the presentation of each selection have a student give a brief presentation about that dance style (such as its history or famous figures) or on a screen present footage of people dancing in that dance style as the school band or orchestra plays. Or have some students from your school dance to the accompaniment of the music.

Themes help audiences relate to real-time experiences and build on prior knowledge or experiences with a genre of music. Thematic units also help us pave the way to facilitating learning of a new genre and experiences.

classical AUDIENCES want to have fun, to be amused, bowled over, and to laugh


Amuse comes from the Middle French word amuser, meaning "to divert the attention, beguile, delude." Averted, changed, entertained, redirected, amused, amazed, dumbfounded, staggered, get the idea.

Watching performers increases understanding, knowledge or engagement. It’s exciting to witness music being made in front of you. Audience members recognize that an understanding of how music operates can be gleaned through visual information, and that observing the performance can contribute to an audience member's engagement. It is part of what takes them out of the everyday into the space of the concert hall.

There is rarely a tension between auditory and visual stimuli. There has been thought that visual stimuli would detract from the auditory. The opposite is true. Most concert goers explicitly expressed appreciation at the presence of visual information. This helped them focus on the experience happening in real-time before their eyes and ears. Visual information is an important part of the experience because it helps provide understanding and/or engagement.

And what kind of things are important for a concert to be enjoyable? The enthusiasm of the performers is paramount. If they look as if they're enjoying what they are doing, and they can convey that sense of enjoyment to the audience, then it's made it into a live experience.

Seeing performers' energy/commitment increases audience members' engagement/enjoyment. An unexpectedly prominent theme was the enjoyment that both seasoned and novice attenders gleaned from watching performers who themselves seem to be enjoying, and engaged in, the performance.

If the performers are involved and enthusiastic, then you feel that you've really gone to a concert that is a very satisfying, integrated experience, rather than just sort of looking at it from the outside. Something that takes you off the street into the world of the concert hall.

Another survey found that concert goers' emotional needs include the need for stimulation/excitement, escape/fantasy, catharsis/release (“thrill”, “frisson”) and intensity/intimacy/passion. They expect a lot. How do we provide that?

people remember stories not facts, STORYTELLING is what connects to our humanity


All pieces of music tell stories. They emanate from a certain cultural milieu, and if nothing else, they describe stories of their own creation.

Since humans first walked the earth, they have told stories, before even the written word or oral language. Through cave drawings and over fires, humans have told stories to shape our existence. Things happen to us -- the elements of a story -- but as humans, we have unique perspectives, which shape how a story is relayed.

Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it's common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener – an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy.

Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature – a face, a figure, a flower – and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns, we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.

We're all constantly exchanging our own narratives. We do it all the time. We do it on the phone, we do it online, we do it in coffee shops, we do with people we love, we do with people we just met for the first time. This is not new. For thousands of years almost every human culture has been telling stories. Telling stories helps make sense of what it is to be human.

Stories let us carve our initials into the wet cement of the moment.

Creating stories allows for a prophetic dimension to emerge from the relics of our musical heritage, inspiring a reinterpretation. To discover in them something we have not seen before. The story-line both informs and creates a context for the various pieces, all perfectly delightful in and of themselves, but now enhanced by their new placement within ideas quite relevant to our current lives. Can they speak to modern ears, with new meaning? Yes, absolutely.

We know this much: people want to be immersed. They want to get involved in a story, to carve out a role for themselves, to make it their own.

classical audiences want to feel the musician's CONCENTRATION and communication


We very often notice that great music needs and gets serious attention and absorption from players and audience alike. Everyone needs to acknowledge that profound immersion is the most rewarding way to perform and to listen. For this to happen, distractions need to be kept to a minimum. To do that if both the senses of hearing and seeing are focused on one thing immersion can take place.

For most respondents who identified the capacity for variance as an enjoyable element of live performance, this preference was not related to identifying absolute imperfections, but more about recognizing and valuing the idiosyncrasies of a unique performance, to the extent that performances which were deemed 'technically correct' without 'really coming to life' were viewed by some as 'missing that last bit of the jigsaw' The uniqueness of live performance increased the appeal of very familiar works, as 'the same piece can sound quite different on two different occasions, even played by the same people.

As Susan Tomes observes in her study, if a concert audience can 'hear and see the player; body language can be expressive, and adds the information you get from seeing to the information you get from listening'.

Arguably some of these facets of performance quality can only really be gleaned in the live performance situation - a recorded performance may supply 'perfection' but can it also convey a combination of 'enthusiasm', 'personal expression', and 'character'?

When the listeners found the performance 'engaging' or 'emotionally moving', it was found that emotional engagement was a better predictor of enjoyment than performance quality.

Classical Audiences want to enjoy whatever is on the program

Classical Audiences want to enjoy whatever is on the program

What makes the experience of attending concerts enjoyable? 37% of respondents of one focus group mentioned live experience and/or a sense of immediacy: commenting on the nature of live performance, or on the live 'atmosphere.'

More broadly, 72% of respondents indicated that one of their reasons for attending the concert was because 'the program appeals to me'

Combinations of novelty and familiarity. A significant proportion of questionnaire responses which mentioned novelty described it in conjunction with familiarity, noting, for example 'the warmth of familiar favorite pieces and the excitement of appreciating unfamiliar works'

In my own experience, I haven’t met an audience yet – younger or older, nightclub or library – that doesn’t like to participate in some way in the show

As in the case above, some respondents placed importance on this first-hand experience because it engenders communication or a feeling of interaction with the performers: I've had many enjoyable musical experiences which were not of the top quality, in the conventional sense. And equally I have been to allegedly top-quality events where I felt totally alien from what was going on. [ ... ] It comes back to the communication, the sense of a nexus between you and the [musicians]

They identify factors such as a sense of 'collective experience' among audience members as a key determinant of 'performance quality', thereby bringing the variable closer to what Thompson (2007: 20) identifies as 'affective experience', or simply 'enjoyment of the performance as a whole.’

additional comment

 We have designed our 3 concerts ,Bach and Sons, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Around the World in 80 MInutes, to include all of these points. The audience and hosts thank us.

 It's even beyond their imaginations. It's worth exploring.  


Portions of 10 Things Classical Audiences Want,  were excerpted from :

· The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music Lydia Goehr

. Association of British  Orchestras - Stop Re-inventing The Wheel A guide to what we already know about developing audiences for Classical Music 

· Abercrombie, N., and B. Longhurst. 1998. Audiences: A Sociological Theory of Performance and Imagination. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 

· Between stalls, stage and score: An investigation of audience experience and enjoyment in classical music performance Melissa Dobson Submitted for the degree of PhD Department of Music University of Sheffield April 2010