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  • Writer's pictureJulian S. Scott

Don’t Shoot the Messenger …

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

I just saw a trailer for a show called, “I Hate Suzie Too” where the protagonist Suzie portrayed by Billie Piper is asked, “Are you happy with everyone hating you?” for which she replies, “No, it’s not lovely.” It made me laugh as I am sure there are a few people who are not very fond of me right now, which is definitely not lovely.

The other day I was sharing with a friend that I’ve been frustrated with the amount of pushback or lack of interest (which is almost worse) that I have gotten recently. He thoughtfully responded, “Someone has to be the bad guy.” It was a bit jarring to hear this at first—who wants to be the bad guy? I just want to somehow help get people to show up and support all the incredible artists here. Of course, what seemed a straightforward task is far more complicated than I could have ever possibly imagined. If it was just one issue to tackle, it would be a different story, but with multiple challenges that are so deeply-rooted and reinforced with sometimes decades of bad behavior—even the smallest change sometimes feels impossible.

As an example, I am a big fan of printed programs. A thoughtful program can work wonders to educate and provide context to guests about what they about to enjoy as well as promote future performances and the organisation as a whole. The problem is many programs are written for people with an expert knowledge of classical music versus the casual concert goer who likely does not. If you don’t know the difference between a cantata and a sonata, to go any deeper is arguably pointless. Context is also critical whether from historical or contemporary perspectives but shared in a way that can be universally understood and appreciated. The bottom-line is no one likes to feel stupid and if they don’t understand what is being performed and why, it’s going to be a tough sell to get them to come back.

One would think all this would not be controversial, but there are large number of people who strongly believe to do what I’m suggesting above would be “dumbing down” the experience and attendees should educate themselves in order level themselves up. The elitism aside, which is whole other issue, I can tell you what’s dumb—expecting people to do this without help from us. Going out to a concert is meant to be enjoyable—not homework. If we’re going to make people work to even get a baseline understanding of what’s happening on stage, it’s no wonder many first-time attendees don’t come back.

People often make these things harder than they need to be (whether for lack of understanding or simple stubbornness as to make any change would imply they were doing something wrong, which is not necessarily true or really the point.) Reimaging a program should be a chance to be creative and test out different ideas. It’s a moment in time—not forever—and little changes can have a major impact. As an example, how about a program that highlights the basics with a QR code for more detailed information? Or, if there’s room, including a high-level overview first followed with more academic insights? Another idea is to have all this on a website where an email before the performance is sent that encourages attendees to learn about the performance based on their current level of knowledge. There are probably endless possibilities, but one needs to first embrace even the smallest change before we can expect anything to meaningfully change.

Of course, I noted above a performance should be enjoyable—but if the whole experience is done right—it can be educational, too. We must remember it’s not just fellow musicians, arts leaders and academics in the audience (or least it shouldn’t be!)

Lastly, I know I rattle on about industry experts David Taylor and Aubrey Bergauer all the time, but they are so smart and great at breaking all this down. They just did an amazing interview where they tackle this topic as well as few other related points. Don’t listen to me, listen to them—just remember, don’t shoot the messenger!

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