My TAFTO Favs

Next week the entries for this year’s Take A Friend To The Orchestra Month (TAFTO) begin. I have always enjoyed reading this series, even before I had any association with Drew McManus or joined Inside the Arts. There have been a couple entries from the past that have really stuck in my mind. While you are waiting for this year’s installments, I thought I would post a couple links to some of my favorite entries.

Nothing should be read into the fact that I haven’t included entries from 2008. These are my favorites and I make no pretense at being egalitarian. Nor am I being modest by excluding my own contributions. This is a list of the entries that popped out at me and remained in my memory over the years. Last year’s entries were just fine and whet my appetite for the 2009 batch.

2005

I really enjoyed some of the earliest entries because they focused on some of the rules for attending the orchestra. Really many of them can easily be applied to attending any arts activity whether it be performance or visual arts experience.

For this reason, Kyle Gann and Sam Bergman’s entries back in 2005 are among my favorites. They approach some of the intimidating aspects of attendance with honesty and humor.

One of the entries that I immediately associate with the whole TAFTO initiative was the WNYC interview on Soundcheck when Drew took Soundcheck host John Schaefer’s brother, Jerry to a Bartok performance at Carnegie Hall. The interview, which may be downloaded here, requires RealPlayer to play. In my view, the interview constitutes the most effective entry in the TAFTO effort. Jerry speaks with complete candor about how he only liked 2/3 of the experience. If I only had one entry to choose to help me convince someone to attend an orchestra performance, this would be the one because the listener can be most guaranteed that they are receiving an honest appraisal, realize they probably possess the capacity to evaluate and enjoy the experience, and recognize they have permission to be bored and not enjoy every moment.

2006

In this batch of writing, I liked Jerry Bowles account of how he and his wife had cultivated an appreciation of culture in general in his nephew by treating him like an adult. His entry serves to remind all arts people that appreciation of our products is a gradual process rather than an instantaneous event. Also, getting to that point requires communication, patience and trust that people will find their way rather than needing a dumbed down approach.

Kevin Giglinto’s entry traveled along the same lines, except that he spoke about his personal interactions with music that took him from Led Zeppelin through Husker Du and Sonic Youth to working for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). When he first encountered Led Zeppelin, Husker Du and Sonic Youth, he had no doubts about his relationship with the music. Even though each initial experience challenged what he knew, he believed in his capacity to comprehend it.

The prospect of working for CSO intimidated the hell out of him though.

“I probably felt the same perceived barriers that people have in their minds today that stop them from entering the doors for the first time. I asked myself the same questions I know they are asking:

“What if I don’t understand the music?”
“Will I appreciate it less without that understanding?”
“Is this music really for me, given what I usually listen to?”

Then came the first performance I attended. On the program was Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony…When the music ended, and the audience erupted with applause, I realized that all the questions I had in my head prior to the experience were irrelevant. It was the music. It took me over with the same incredible rush that I experienced with The Who, The Clash or whoever else occupied my musical drive. It was the music.”

I can’t leave 2006 without mentioning Alex Shapiro’s “screw the rules, let them wear party hats” post which I believe is still one of the most commented upon entries on the Adaptistration blog. The entry remains a must read. Alex’s point is essentially that one generally doesn’t prepare to go to a rock concert being overly concerned about hearing the lyrics much less grasping the whatever imagery and metaphor they invoke but we are pleased if we do. Going to a classical music performance should be approached in the same anxiety free manner.

And if you are thinking, yeah but at a rock concert, part of the excitement is hoping some hot guy/girl will bump into while screaming “Wahooooo!!!!”, Alex is right there with you wishing it would happen in our symphony halls.

I also enjoyed Pete Matthews recounting of his visits to three different classical music events with the same friend in the course of a month. It was just a nice, comparison of the types of music you can hear and the sort of places you could hear it. I was most encouraged by the quality experience they had in a high school auditorium given they also attended at Avery Fisher and Carnegie Halls.

2007

James Palermo, General Director of Grant Park Music Festival caught my attention with his vow not to apologize for loving classical music. I think a lot of us have found ourselves falling into the same mindset and needing to pull ourselves out.

Then I read a quote attributed to the great soprano Leontyne Price about the value of the arts. I’ll never forget it:

“We should not have a tin cup out for something as important as the arts in this country, the richest in the world. Creative artists are always begging, but always being used when it’s time to show us at our best.”

When a President dies, at the funeral we feature the hottest opera star singing Amazing Grace. When the media wants to associate something with class or value, it invariably uses baroque or classical era music. If a marketer wants to conjure up grandeur or power, it’s Verdi’s Anvil Chorus or Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries.

So, I vowed to stop apologizing for loving and understanding classical music. Whenever I hear negative comments from friends or colleagues, I remind them that the music is enjoyable, revelatory and full of great things for anyone who is open enough to experience it without prejudice, regardless of social class or race.

One of the most singular posts in the TAFTO was produced by Bill Harris who engaged in an extensive analysis about whether Take A Friend To The Orchestra Month was a worthwhile endeavor. His work is so insightful and unlike any other entry in the TAFTO series, it is impossible to ignore.

Hope you took a look at some of these past entries and will join the fun over at Adaptistration next week for the new installments!

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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