Are you more likely to go to a symphony or a modern art exhibit?

In a WBEZ interview about how techno music is like classical music, Mason Bates, composer-in-residence for both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony, gives an example of how people are afraid of the symphony. At minute 11:48 in the inteview he says,

“The primary problem is intimidation. I know so many people, you probably know people, who go to CRAZY modern art exhibits. They are absolutely THRILLED to wait in line at the MCA for something. But they’ll say, ‘I don’t know about the symphony, because I really don’t know anything about it.’ And as soon as we just can change that, and have people know you just show up and just check something out, you’ll have a great time. There are lots of different pieces from different of eras. I think then we’ll get that tide flowing in a different.”

Part of the problem with the “modern art crowd” not attending the symphony is that attending the symphony is an “event” whereas the modern art exhibit is a space. When people go to an event like the symphony, they feel like there has to be a certain air about how you dress, because it’s an “event.” There’s a crowd of people around you that puts that peer pressure into effect. Everyone has to sit completely still. It’s very stiff.

Whereas the art museum still has that feeling of of social pressure, it’s a bit more loose in how people can behave.

  1. You are free to roam the galleries. In symphonies you are constricted to your seat.
  2. You are free to spend as much time as you want. In symphonies, you have to remain in the same spot.
  3. You can talk in galleries. In symphonies, you must remain silent.
  4. It’s easier to advertise a gallery show. Include visuals of the artwork. With a symphony, you have to create a brand to represent the work. The brand can become overwhelming to people without the actual music to bring it back to earth. The visuals in a gallery advertisement help to balance the museum’s brand. With a symphony’s brand, it’s all about high-class, high-quality.
  5. It can be mad expensive to go to the symphony. Whereas the art museums typically have a free day every week.
  6. Tickets sell out for symphonies. Rarely does a museum sell-out of tickets–only for blockbuster shows. But even if a blockbuster sells out, there’s lots of other exhibits to be seen.

I love attending the Rush Hour music performances at St. James Cathedral. The mood is casual. It’s free. You can just walk in without a ticket. I find both equally approachable, but points five and six are the ones that prohibit me from going to a symphony performance.

Hattip to Dubplate Dionysus for blogging about this interview.

What do you think? What’s more welcoming? A modern art exhibit or the symphony?

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Caitlin Peters
11 years ago

this is a very interesting conversation. I completely agree with the symphony being stiff. also, I am a very visual person. I want to see something while I am enjoying the music. I don’t really have a desire to sit for hours watching an orchestra sit for hours. it seems like a waste.

however, I will gladly go to a concert because it seems like more of a performance where the band or dj is lively. maybe there is even a screen with visuals behind them while performing. so as much as I would like to be able to enjoy the symphony, I would much rather see a modern art exhibit rather than go to the symphony.

i think a nice combination of these two ideas would be the opera. unfortunately, this is not very accessible to many young people because of the price range which could also play into the symphony problem as well (i have not researched symphony prices).

maybe the symphony should start combining forces with modern art museums and artists to do some sort of collaboration. best of both worlds in my humble opinion.

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