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April Is Take A Friend To Orchestra Month - 2007
But can word of mouth programs really make a difference?

by Drew McManus
April 2, 2007

Take A Friend To Orchestra is back for its third year and is bigger than ever. If you're not familiar with what Take A Friend To Orchestra (dubbed TAFTO) is all about, it is an opportunity for the people who care the most about classical music to participate in a proactive way. Throughout the month of April, my column at Arts Journal will feature music critics, bloggers, musicians, conductors, classical music enthusiasts, and administrators as they write about how average patrons throughout the country can invite friends who don't regularly participate in live music events to a performance in their area.

I am enormously pleased to say that TAFTO has become popular enough to merit becoming an annual event. This year is the biggest TAFTO event yet as 15 contributors have crafted some of the most unique, entertaining, and inspiring TAFTO material yet, there's even a special Take A Friend To Opera mini-program. Here's a complete list of contributors (listed alphabetically):

  • Paul Alter: Retired multimedia training specialist, practicing music addict [bio]
  • Galen Brown: Composer and blogger [bio]
  • Andrew Druckenbrod: Classical Music Critic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [bio]
  • Bill Harris: Systems Dynamics Expert and orchestra enthusiast [bio]
  • Jason Heath: Bassist & author of Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog [bio]
  • Magda Krance: Manager of Media Relations, Lyric Opera of Chicago [bio]
  • Frank J. Oteri: AMC Composer Advocate & Founding Editor, NewMusicBox [bio]
  • Jim Palermo: General Director, Grant Park Music Festival [bio]
  • Henry Peyrebrune: Bassist, Cleveland Orchestra [bio]
  • Jesse Rosen: Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ASOL [bio]
  • Roger Ruggeri: Bassist, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra [bio]
  • Leonard Slatkin: Musician [bio]
  • Michael Tiknis: Managing Director, Harris Theater for Music and Dance [bio]
  • Connie Linsler Valentine: Executive Director, Nashville Chamber Orchestra [bio]
  • Kim Pensinger Witman: Director, Wolf Trap Opera & Classical Programming [bio]

Perhaps best of all, each contributor has donated their time to help make TAFTO a success and after looking through the above list it just goes to show what people in the business think about the program. But does that mean TAFTO, or any other word of mouth audience development program, can genuinely have any measurable impact on concert attendance?

As the 2007 TAFTO efforts were ramping up I asked myself that very question and frankly, I didn't have an answer. The only hard evidence I had were email messages and reader comments who wanted to relay their TAFTO experiences. I also had all of the great contributions from last year's TAFTO essay contest right here at The Partial Observer (you can read the winner's contribution here). But beyond that, there was no tangible evidence to support or discredit whether TAFTO was making a difference.

The more I thought about it, the more the uncertainty displeased me. Fortunately, realizing what you don't know is the first step toward understanding and as luck would have it, a friend and colleague of mine came up with a brilliant solution on how to approach this problem.

Bill Harris is an expert in systems dynamics, which often utilizes modeling programs to address dynamic problems. Bill concluded that he could take some existing data on orchestra attendance and use that to create a model that could effectively analyze the impact of word of mouth programs on overall orchestral audience development.

I bet you're wondering what sort of outcomes Bill's model has produced. Well, I thought the findings were so insightful that they deserved to be a full fledged TAFTO contribution. As such, Bill put a great deal of work into preparing a wonderful article that guides readers through identifying the problem, how he created his model, and the subsequent results. His article is scheduled to be published on Monday, April 9.

In my opinion, I think the results are astonishing and offer enough material for the entire classical music business to take a collective step back and reconsider how they go about building and maintaining an audience. I hope you'll take a moment to mark your calendar so you don't forget to check out Bill's article once it is published.

Furthermore, I hope each and every one of you will take the time this month to take at least one friend to attend a classical music event. If you don't know where to start, visit the TAFTO pages from 2005, 2006, and 2007 where you'll discover inspiration aplenty!

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