Knight Foundation Report

February 2011 Ed note: I wrote this in Nov 2006 for ePiano – and have slightly edited and republished here:

From 1994 to 2004 — a seminal decade for the arts in America — the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invested $13 million in its Magic of Music Symphony Orchestra Initiative.  Among other things, it attempted to respond to challenges faced by Orchestras throughout the country.  The Wall Street Journal on November 5/6, 2006, picked up on this report. The entirety of the report “The Search for Shining Eyes” is viewable at: and is also available for .pdf download as well.  It is well worth reading for anyone involved in music education or curious about the state of classical music in America.

Some thoughts:

If you teach, they will come.  It seems that two of the reports key facts/conclusions stand out and have significant implications for music teaching institutions:

  1. There is growing evidence that participatory music education – primarily instrumental lessons, ensemble and choral programs – will turn people into ticket buyers later in life.
  2. There is no evidence that exposure programs for children – especially the large concert format offerings for school children – will turn them into ticket buyers as adults.

Then, the big idea!
The report states: “In trying to profile the factors that might predict a ticket buyer, one statistic stood out: 74 percent of them had played an instrument or sung in a chorus at some time in their lives.”  Wow! This is the main, positive observation of this 10 year study.

The symphony orchestras needs to realize the strong positive association that connects them to music education and may indeed determine their long term fate.

For the classical music “establishment” this means supporting and instigating music making at every level at every opportune moment, in every feasible manner.

Orchestra funding sources should should think about music education.
With such a strong fact correlating orchestral attendance and music participation, it suggests that the classical music establishment needs to start thinking about building music education and not relying on shopworn ideas about how to grow or maintain concert attendance. As the report states – the larger the universe of music makers – the larger the group of likely concert attendees.

There is now every reason for the Orchestra and its various arms to become involved in music education through partnerships, grants, free promotion – or even consider something as radical as opening schools and directly offering music education programs in schools or out .  The cloistered classical music community must realize that the vast majority of the world cares less about their craft with every year that passes.  The ever improving marketing machine that captures people’s attention and time makes it harder for a static, old-world business like the Orchestra to compete effectively for public attention.

So, gather now all ye educators and symphonies – your common ground is now made entirely clear.  If you teach, they will come.

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