Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

I like big butts… and the Seattle Symphony??

I found this video through a fellow arts management student. Through its Sonic Evolution project the Seattle Symphony commissions composers to write symphonic music that draws inspiration from bands and artists somehow connected to Seattle. 

Composer Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of the famous 20th century Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev!) was inspired by the work of Seattle native Sir Mix-A-Lot, writing two pieces based on the rapper’s famous tunes, including “Baby Got Back. In the video Sir Mix-A-Lot joins the Seattle Symphony to perform Prokofiev’s orchestration of his Grammy-winning rap.    

I find the Seattle Symphony’s Sonic Evolution project to be an interesting way to engage audiences. By performing popular music in a symphonic setting, the Seattle Symphony can without a doubt draw new audience members to the concert hall. Further, the casual feeling of the performance makes the orchestra seem incredibly hip. What other major symphony orchestra would have nearly hundreds of ladies dancing promiscuously in front of them? Not many!

However, I am curious whether this kind of audience engagement promotes a higher number of regular concert subscribers. When Sir Mix-A-Lot leaves, do audiences stick around for more traditional programming? Big butts are fine, but are Beethoven and Brahms are better! I wonder if audiences think this way as well. 





8 comments on “I like big butts… and the Seattle Symphony??

  1. alexgilbertschrag
    August 27, 2014

    I agree – I think it would be fascinating to find out the retention rate of those who came to this kind of concert. What is nice though, is that this gives the public audience experience. They can begin to understand that some of the music heard everyday through the radio or some sort of streaming site is created and inspired by instruments. Having the visual – even if it was behind Sir Mix-A-Lot – demonstrated the connection of orchestral instruments to the popular music we hear today.

    There are many orchestras who participate in “Orchestra Pops” concerts. I think this is just a different avenue to explore. One of the reasons behind the pops concerts was to bring in an audience who liked orchestral music, but didn’t want to listen to an entire Mahler Symphony. This might be another way to bring in the “out of the norm” audience to orchestra concerts.

  2. torisharbaugh
    August 28, 2014

    These artistic “fusion of genre” projects are becoming more popular in the last 10 years. Classical music has obviously been struggling to bring in younger and more diversified audiences and have used tactics similar to the Seattle Symphony. On the surface, I think projects like these would be effective. If someone sees a concert with a popular name they are familiar with, they are more likely to attend that event.
    However, if the goal is to get audiences to appreciate classical music and become active listeners, I think they are approaching it in the wrong way.

    I think classical music producers need to realize that the problem is not the music itself, but how audiences engage and experience that music. The Seattle Symphony had the right idea when they brought the ladies on the stage and incorporated audience participation into their program. If classical music concerts engaged the audience more actively, I believe more people would be interested in coming. Unfortunately, it is not enough for people nowadays to sit down for over an hour and merely listen to the music.

  3. cayleycarroll
    August 28, 2014

    First off, this video is hilarious. “Orchestral movements from the hood” really was what did it for me. Also, the awkward dancing on stage is… top-notch. Really couldn’t have asked for anything more uncomfortable. Thank you for posting this!

    I agree that the Sonic Evolution is a fun way to engage the audience. The target audience for these kind of events is much different from a typical Seattle Symphony concert. I imagine the programmers were trying to reach younger and less classically-trained listeners. This event was probably an opportunity to show this demographic that going to the symphony can be enjoyable/not stuffy/is socially relevant; fine art does not have to mean being bored in a chair for three hours.

  4. jessicamallow
    August 28, 2014

    The Sonic Evolution program generally has a lot of success, from what I’ve heard in the orchestra world! However, I do personally believe that this particular Sir Mix-a-Lot rendition might have been a near-miss. Perhaps it was an important attempt, but a lot of research done by the League of American Orchestras points to the fact that non-classical music doesn’t truly build classical audiences. So if indeed that is their end goal, then it was an interesting choice on their part! As this concert was additionally part of the League of American Orchestras national conference, the majority of their audience could be assumed to have been made up of arts managers from across the country. I had a couple of colleagues in the audience and they said that it was actually sort-of an uncomfortable event to watch, noting that many people in the audience didn’t seem keen to participate.
    However, if they’re looking to diversify their revenue stream and provide a new source of ticket income from this new genre, then full steam ahead! It isn’t much different than orchestras that provide separate pops subscriptions from their classical subscriptions, seeing as in such cases, those audiences have very little cross-over, either.

    • jaredchamoff
      August 28, 2014

      I would be uncomfortable too… It’s like watching my parents dance to r&b or rap music. Painful!

  5. qfloyd
    August 28, 2014

    This would be an interesting case study in regards to the non-traditional orchestra concert. What was the premise behind this? Were they trying to reach a “younger” (I’m using younger because I remember reading an article that stated that the average classical concert audience age was about 45-50 years old) audience?

    More recently, the National Symphony Orchestra had a concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nas’ most famous album, Illmatic. This seems to be a growing idea amongst classical organizations to have cross-genre, more specifically hip hop, concerts. It is an interesting concept and definitely gets the community more involved and the audience engaged.

  6. yaoge2016
    August 29, 2014

    I optimistically agree with the pattern of Sonic Evolution program, which really finds its target market of the young and the pop lovers and expands its audience to a larger group.

    Some people may concern the retention rate of those audience, and assume that those won’t bring long-term benefits to the symphony. However, it is said that “since the turn of this century, people have become more spontaneous in choosing their entertainment options and are less likely to commit a year in advance to specific dates or to an entire series of performances”(SRO, J.S. Bernstein). So if that’s the trend of the whole industry, we should take each orchestra concert into consideration respectively and make each concert the best experience for the audience. Instead of wishing the young and new audience be loyal to the symphony, the manager should exhaust their ability to make each symphony attractive.

  7. sarasps85
    September 1, 2014

    It´s indeed a good case study although I believe it was not really successful and/or effective. You choose to go to a concert not only to hear the music but also to have its intrinsic experience: the concert hall, the musicians and their instruments, the information about the piece etc. Here, I could not really hear the music or see the musicians on stage. I did see the women dancing but…was I expecting to see that? No. Should I change my mind set when it comes to classical orchestras? Maybe, if it´s well contextualized.
    I believe that other techniques can be used to take younger people to classical concerts, education departments have been reinventing themselves in order to do so.
    It is a relevant matter and I am not saying that this may not have positive results in the future, I just think that this example was not the best .

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