Tim Rule, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra's marketing coordinator, knows there are stigmas associated with classical music. "Young professionals don't have the default interest in classical music," says Rule. And the CSO, like many symphony orchestras in the country, wants to change that.
Within the past decade a number of symphonies have tried out new ways in which to bring in younger audiences. The San Francisco Symphony created Soundbox, an experimental performance space with programs and artists designed to appeal to a younger audience. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra appointed a new music director last fall, who is "aggressively targeting younger audiences who like their classical infused with significant doses of pop," according to the Denver Post. The National Symphony targets young audiences with "Declassified," a shorter, late-night performance series.
And then there's the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, kicking off its 2017-18 series on Sept. 15 at the Gaillard Center. This season promises the usual fare of Masterworks, Pops, and Chamber Music shows, with the addition of three new ways to get involved that will, with any luck, bring in millenials.
Launched this past February, CSOGo is a concept that caters to young professionals. "These people do not want to commit to a concert weeks or months in advance, like a lot of our older patrons," says Rule. "CSOGo is a way for them to show up at any concert on a whim at the box office." For $35 a month CSOGo members get access to all CSO shows and can show up at the box office right before a show, snagging the best seats available to them. "You're potentially getting a $160 value for $35 a month without having to commit," says Rule.
In addition to CSOGo, the symphony also rolled out CSO Tasting Notes earlier this year with design company Fuzzco, whose owners Josh Nissenboim and Helen Rice are CSO fans. Tasting Notes is a pre-concert wine tasting event, held the Thursday night before a Masterworks concert. Led by CSO music director Ken Lam, the wine tasting pairs wine with classical music, with Lam giving a little insight into the behind-the-scenes life of a composer. While this past Spring only held three Tasting Notes sessions, Rule hopes to hold this event before every Masterworks concert in the coming seasons.
Just this month the CSO launched CSOMix, yet another lure for younger patrons. CSOMix allows concert-goers to pick and choose what shows from the Pops and Masterworks series they'd like to see based on their schedules, instead of committing to a set series.
We have to wonder, though, if these campaigns can beat that stigma Rule is set on shattering — do young people really want to see the symphony? Rule thinks so. "It's not that young audiences don't like classical music," he says. "As it turns out they don't know they like classical music. Once we get them in the door they have their own a-ha moment; they realize it's a lot more enjoyable than pop culture would have them think."
Rule doesn't have any hard stats on whether these campaigns have worked — they're all still in the very early stages, after all. He can say that this Spring's CSOGo picked up about a dozen new members, and he got a lot of positive feedback from the Tasting Notes series.
"There's not an exact answer as to why but the tastes of classical music tend towards the older demographic," says Rule. "Most of our patrons are 60 years of age or older. While we have fantastic relationships with them, we also want people coming in from age 20 years until they die, not just starting at 60."
Learn more about CSOGo, CSOMix, and Tasting Notes at charlestonsymphony.org.