I went to the OAE office on Wednesday 23 June to meet Natalie and Natasha who work in the education and marketing departments. OAE is known to be a bit eccentric with their slogan ‘not all orchestras are the same‘, so I went to see if their unique approach attracted a different kind of audience.
The orchestra is different in the way it communicates with its audience. It uses very bold eye-catching printed material for which they commission photo shoots of the orchestra. The tone of language is conversational, with simple explanations of who they are why they do what they do.
Besides the night shift they do a number of things to make the orchestra interactive and accessible. Their next season has a pre-concert event called OAE Extra before each concert including talks, illustrated lectures, insights & performances. There are also post-concert Q&A with the orchestra musicians. Similarly to the Night Shift they have used a presenter, though somewhat more formally, to introduce the works during a concert based on Handel.
Case Study: The Night Shift
The Night Shift was the brainwave of a member of staff and has remained pretty much the same ever since its pilot in 2005. It was principally started to attract younger audiences and coincided with the development of their student scheme, Attitude. The idea is that there is no need for prior knowledge of classical music, but then the music is not presented in a patronising way.
The research from focus groups and surveys provides stunning evidence of the success of the scheme with 80% of the audience under 35. Interestingly, the Night Shift has created a new audience separate from the orchestra’s main audience. Though a few will go onto a concert from the main season, there is not frequent crossover between the two different audiences and events. With its club-like name, the night shift has managed to change the way people think about classical concerts and gained prestige as a cool event.
The independent researcher, Anne Millman states:
In short, The Night Shift is cool… The Night Shift succeeds in reversing all negative preconceptions of live classical music concerts: in the course of an hour or so attenders moved from expectations that the experience will be expensive, formal, long, middle aged, proper, strict and stuffy to an understanding that it can be accessible,.. comfortable, inclusive, informal, laid back, relaxing,
spontaneous and studenty… The OAE is doing a service to the entire sector.
As well as introducing children to period instruments at the pitches they would have originally have sounded, the education department is unique in the way that it encourages musicians from within the orchestra to lead education and community projects and it is repertoire focused to the extent that they will try and schedule projects around the music that the orchestra is playing at the time. This way the people who are most passionate and knowledgeable about the music can come in direct contact with the participants.
While free tickets are given to participants to their main concerts, the take up is not high suggesting the conventional concert format is not appealing. However, they have a number of family concerts to appeal to younger listeners.
Towards to end of the meeting Natalie imparted the wise words that the way to engage children is to make them feel part of the concert through either playing or singing. Definitely a thought to follow up.