The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, led by music director David Wiley, is enjoying increases in sales and attendance recently despite reports of dwindling audience sizes nationally. The new information, released by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), combined with an earlier report conducted by the League of American Orchestras (LAO), outlines declines in participation rates for orchestras, other performing arts, and cinema, as well as live sporting events and other activities during the period of 2002 to 2008.
According to previous national studies, classical music audience sizes grew over a 20 year period, from 21.8 million in 1982, up to 24.6 million in 2002. In the past 6 years, audience size dropped down to 21.3 million. For the RSO, the past few years have yielded an upturn in sales. With its sights already focused on study recommendations, the RSO is thinking creatively about its role in a culture of changing expectations.
During the past few years, the RSO has anticipated and concentrated on practices that show promise in countering the national trends. Exploring ticket pricing, alternate venues, programming, touring, education, new media and social networking services, are all part of the RSO’s strategic plan. Progress indicators now include an astounding 316% increase in subscribers between 2004 and 2008 for its Picnic at the Pops Series, presenting renowned pops artists and symphony orchestra in concert together, and a 37% increase in the number of Symphony-to-the-Max subscribers (all subscription concerts) during the same period.
The RSO has further broadened its programming to provide more “entry points” for diverse audiences to find and enjoy quality performances of classical music, which is the heart of its mission. This includes new and unique programs in collaboration with rock musicians and visual performers, as well as corporate leadership training events created and led by music director David Wiley.
The NEA study, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, along with the LAO’s Audience Demographic Research Review, also reveal some encouraging news to the RSO and orchestras across the country. There is a high level of interest in classical music online and through electronic media. The RSO recently launched the web page it calls “RSO 2.0” — a reference to the “Web 2.0” interactive and networking technology — to promote its use of such services. A link to the page can be found at the RSO’s web site at www.rso.com
Last fall, the RSO introduced an online audio podcast series called “Inside the Music” in which maestro Wiley explores the classical repertoire from the RSO’s Masterworks Series of concerts.