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When Life Gives You Lemons...
You don't have to give up culture during tough economic times.

by Holly Mulcahy
June 2, 2008

From gas to wheat, the price of everything has shot up faster than many can comprehend. In the classical music world, there seems to be an unspoken anxiety over whether or not these changes will end up hurting the arts in one way or another. Donors might think of cutting back, companies might not sponsor as many events, and families might decide to skip live performances altogether.

While most families will surely be looking for places to cut back in their spending, there's an opportunity for growth here as well. It just will take some good old fashioned creativity for folks to take advantage of it.

Growing up, I certainly wouldn't say that we lacked for anything but at the same time everything in my family was approached with frugality; when chicken was bought, every last bit was used (I hate liver to this day), we wore thrift store clothing, my parents used a push mower instead of the gas, etc. Everything was on a tight budget.

But that didn't stop us from attending fantastic orchestra concerts or hitting the art museum and zoo. My thrifty but creative parents were always looking for free concerts in the parks or the free city concert down at the concert hall. Quite often, we would pack a picnic and ride our bikes to the concerts.

Another benefit was taking advantage of concerts at local orchestras that were significantly cheaper to attend. So instead of paying $100 to see Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg play with the Denver Symphony, we saw her perform for $30 with the Boulder Philharmonic.

Sometimes, the Denver Symphony would have a concert my parents would really want us to see and we would get in line for the $5 rush tickets, even though that guaranteed you had to sit smack in the middle of the "cheap seats." But that didn't faze my parents at all; they would bring along embarrassingly huge binoculars so our "cheap seats" would get a better view.

I was mortified they were using these things, but I usually broke down and would borrow them from time to time, allowing a view of the performers that even the expensive seats probably couldn't even see. I felt like a spy every time I caught the ever-so-subtle knowing smirk that would cross a player's face when a soloist slipped. There were times some musicians appeared to be sleeping, other times I noticed someone flirting with someone else across the stage but there was never a lack of something to watch.

My experiences growing up lead me to believe that times might not be as tough for orchestras as some might believe. Many smaller budget orchestras are sometimes located closer than the big budget ones. The saving on gas and lower concert price can sometimes guarantee that families don't have to cut out the frequency with which they attend live concerts.

Many big budget groups do offer special ticket prices, whether it is a rush ticket, or a group rate. Some have student or military rates, but one has to be wily because only careful searching will help find the savings (unless those orchestras start doing a better job at promoting those tickets)!

Having a picnic or biking to a concert is a wonderful thing to do. While the embarrassed teenager in me would have preferred a car ride and a four course dinner before the show, I now prefer my own cooking and actually get excited planning the perfect dinner to go with the 1812 overture (and since I'm usually playing it, dinner is usually what will keep me awake and focused for the show!)

Binoculars are a must, even if you can afford the expensive seats. To this day, whenever my brother (also a professional orchestra musician) and I are performing we know those damn binoculars are trained right on us. But that's fine, because it has created our own concert tradition. When my parents are sitting in the audience, they get the "Family Salute" while we are onstage. It is subtle enough that only they notice, but it brings a smile to their faces every time.

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