Case study: Increasing audiences and membership

Helen Hall of Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra discusses how the orchestra refreshed itself to attract more members and increase audiences.

Background

Our orchestra had been running since 1922. However, over recent years the audiences have been small and the usual programme of overture, concerto, symphony was feeling rather tired.

The challenge

Make our orchestra more appealing to local musicians looking to join an orchestra, and to audiences.

Our target was to increase audience numbers but also to try to enlarge the orchestral membership, particularly string players.

What we did

Focus on quality

  • We decided to employ professional conductors. This involved raising money so we did this gradually – the first year one of our three concerts was conducted by a professional conductor, the second year two, and the third year all three. The conductors also attended six to seven rehearsals prior to the concert, for which they were paid, so a significant amount of money had to be raised. 
  • We raised money by appealing for grants – Alderley Edge Institute Trust, Waitrose, Cheshire East, Manchester Airport. We used the expertise of our Chairman, Richard Howarth, an experienced professional violinist and conductor, to advise us on more attractive programming. He also has links to the Royal Northern College of Music and their Masters programme in conducting. He was able to suggest musicians, already immensely skilled, but looking for opportunities to conduct orchestras.

Raise our profile 

  • We also enhanced our publicity with a much stronger presence in local news online sites, local newspapers and magazines.
  • A Facebook page was established, and the orchestra now uses Twitter to spread the word. Members of the orchestra have helped with posting content. 
  • Other local groups are contacted and given posters and publicity material to ensure that local people are fully aware of the orchestra in their midst.

The results

Bigger audiences
The impact has been that audience numbers have doubled, and we have started booking a larger and more prestigious venue to hold our concerts.

We have partially met our original aims and targets. We still need more string players but we have seen a gradual rise in numbers. Also, we have had massive attendance at our annual workshop for the last two years – these are not regular players but are sufficiently attracted by our improving local reputation to come along to workshops and from these new connections are made and a few extra people join the orchestra.

We feared we may incur massive debts but this has not happened – increasing box office sales have boosted income and our financial position is stronger than ever.

Happier members 

It has had a very positive effect on orchestra morale and the standard of playing has risen. We also tackle much more difficult works and have more belief in ourselves that we can carry it off, spurred on by inspirational young conductors aiming for the highest possible standards, even when working with an amateur orchestra. I think everybody is practicing more!

Success breeds success

The results gave us the inspiration and confidence to carry on building, 

  • We renamed ourselves the Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as Alderley Edge Orchestra), in recognition of our recent achievements and aspirations.
  • We have a new logo and a new updated website with a more modern, attractive feel to it.
  • We used the renaming as a platform for spreading publicity in local media at the end of August, to warm our future audiences and potential new players up for the season to come. 
  • This will be followed up with more publicity as the November concert approaches. As a result of this, we have already sold tickets for our November concert and have had enquiries from new players. Applications for the February workshop are already coming in.

What we learned

Be brave – risk changes. Get all the professional advice you can. Look around for sources of funding – there are all sorts of organisations just trying to give away money if you just work out which buttons to press.

Make the most of your local connections and community: whether its profile raising through news and listing sites or funding from local businesses – much of what you need might be on your doorstep. 

Make the most of the resources you have. We are fortunate to have a chair with expertise and connections he has – but you still have to identify who in your group has these skills and experience and then make the most of them


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