From Our Monthly Newsletter: The Demise of Classical Music? September 8, 2022

Our Executive Director Chris Eanes discusses the increasingly immersive future of choral music and our upcoming season.

It’s difficult to say why exactly, but the 2022-2023 concert season feels like our first post-pandemic season. That’s not to say that the pandemic is over, or that we’re finished having to make decisions that affect folks’ health and safety. But there seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that COVID-19 is an ongoing reality, and we must find ways to return to making music that are equal to – or better than – how we were doing it before.  So, where our 2021-2022 season was a year of cautious rebuilding, this season is a coming-out party.

In a New York Times article on August 21, the authors Michael Paulson and Javier C. Hernández noted, “…some fear that the virus is accelerating long-term trends that have troubled arts organizations for years, including softer ticket sales for many classical music events, the decline of the subscription model for selling tickets at many performing arts organizations, and the increasing tendency among consumers to purchase tickets at the last minute.”

Does this track with what we’re seeing at the Cathedral Choral Society?

At CCS, we have seen an unprecedented number of people – many of them younger than 35 – coming to audition for the chorus. Philanthropic support remains strong at the individual, foundation and government levels.

I won’t avoid the question of “softer” ticket sales. Indeed, like our peer organizations, we’ve seen fewer tickets sold than before the pandemic. That’s to be expected.

But when you include our digital programming and streaming, last year we reached people in all 50 states – up from 38 before the pandemic – and in 20 different countries – a boost from just 9 in prior years. Simply put, more people experienced our art this past year than in any other year in our eight-decade history. And, not by a small amount: 88% more people engaged with CCS in the 2021-2022 season than in our next-best season (2016-2017).

When the 2009 recession wreaked havoc among arts organizations in the United States, a reckoning among arts leaders led to a decade of intensely creative programming, both in the art itself and in the way it is offered to audiences. Many of the companies that played it safe are no longer around.

Relative to 2009, we’re in a much more positive position. Not only have we had a couple of years to think about our art and how we want to engage people in it, but many arts organizations – CCS included – have been able to continue on solid financial footing, thanks to government support and the loyalty of our donors.

So, I offer this: People are a bit slower to come back, and they should be. Folks have spent two and a half years reevaluating what’s important. The art that we consume and the ways in which we consume it have changed dramatically. To think that we should simply turn the lights back on and continue with our old business model is not only optimistic, it is foolhardy.

At the Cathedral Choral Society, this means we are going big this year. For us, the concert is no longer a 90-minute event, it is a holistic experience that begins with the ticket purchase. It will be increasingly immersive (will you be a Capulet or a Montague at our Roméo et Juliette performance?), increasingly creative, and increasingly responsive.

We should stop talking about the death of the subscription model and, instead, talk about the possibilities that lie ahead. In the coming years, pent-up creative energy will burst forth. If it’s offered to our communities in ways that are accessible and relevant, we’re sure to experience a time of extraordinary excitement and growth.

Also, it’s ok to buy your tickets the week before the concert. I do.