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Changing Young People’s Minds About Classical Concerts Will Not Be Easy

Jul 13, 2017

Music in the Round, Sheffield, UK. Image Credit: Independent Sheffield (

It’s been a much debated subject for years now, but what are the barriers that seem to be preventing, or disinclining, young people from going to classical music concerts? Even a casual glance across the rows of seating at a typical symphony concert will yield the truth of the matter. Children and young adults are conspicuous by their absence, and this is despite the strenuous efforts of the creative and marketing teams behind our orchestras to acquire new audiences.

Why exactly is this so? Numerous reasons have been put forward, including how concerts in their traditional format are too longto suit the listening preferences of younger generations, ticket prices are too expensive, and the formal, sit-in-silence atmosphere inside concert halls is too stifling. Others have suggested that newcomers to classical music are put off by the unanimated demeanour of the musicians themselves while they perform, which seems to hide their own involvement with the music and even make them look bored.

So the logic goes like this: by making classical concerts shorter, cheaper, more informal and visually engaging with elements such as lighting, projections and movement on stage, this could entice more young people to come along. The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that it underestimates the intelligence and acumen of the people to whom it is directed. They’re not so easily swayed. Millennials, who have grown up in a jungle of marketing, know repackaging when they see it, and they don’t necessarily find truth in it. As one commentator put it: “they’re not moved by flashy ads, big promises, and “wow” factor. They want authentic messages, authentic brands, and authentic interactions”.

Hearing what young people themselves have to say about classical music seems more important than anything else. Orchestras routinely run focus groups to help them find answers to programming, but published studies in this area are rare. An interesting piece of research in the Journal of Popular Music Education suggests the views that young adults hold toward classical music are not as malleable as might be imagined.