Concerts for free or nearly free

Free concerts don’t always get full-house. Publicity is what it takes. And a lot of eager students on standby.


Search for “classical concert etiquette” and you will get guides like this one and numerous others. These articles are well-written. It would be superfluous to write more about this subject. In thinking about advice for first-time concert goers, I recall how I became an avid concert goer. It began with the word FREE.

When I lived in London and learned of the free concerts at the local music college, I was curious if I could or should attend. I would show up for a lunch concert. Sometimes there were more people on stage than in the audience. I would make eye contact and feel somewhat uncomfortable because I had seen them before. Perhaps elsewhere in town or at a previous concert, I was not sure. The discomfort could also be described as a kind of guilt. It was a free concert. What did I do to deserve a free concert? It was sheer indulgence for me —- I had the time and interest and desire. The discomfort could also be described as a kind of trespass. I was neither a student nor an employee. I merely lived in the neighbourhood.

After I became a “regular,” someone from the college introduced himself to me and talked to me.  I gasped. I was not invisible after all. Somebody noticed that I had been faithfully attending these free concerts. Was it time to cough up and pay? [It’s so English not to say anything unless you are introduced. Self-introductions are an American phenomenon.]

It wasn’t until I enrolled as a full-time conservatory student in the Netherlands, that I saw the concerts from the other side. The concerts were always free. There was no budget to administer tickets. There was hardly a budget for publicity. The free concerts were never full unless it was someone’s final exam, opera, orchestra, or composition concert.  There could easily be more people on stage than in the audience. There were regulars from the community. I would give them a nod and sometimes a grin. We acknowledged each other as conspiring in the same indulgence of classical music.

As a composer and performer, I wanted to see more people in the audience. Yet as a student, it was not for me to change the policy of the school. The doors were wide open for anyone to come to concerts. But the concerts were not actively promoted. The shops around the school did not have posters of the concerts. The shop keepers and assistants didn’t know about the concerts. The conservatory once welcomed Mozart, Schumann, and Brahms. That was history. The teachers were busy teaching. The students were busy studying.

And that’s how I clocked up thousands of free concerts. Every conservatory and music school seemed to have the same policy or lack of a policy when it came to concerts. Free.

Audience at final exam concert in Utrecht Conservatory, 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer
Audience at final exam concert in Utrecht Conservatory, 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer

University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC) is situated directly across from Maui’s equivalent of Carnegie Hall (New York) and Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) and the Royal Albert Hall (London). Its largest concert hall seats 1,200. The smaller hall seats 250. There’s also an outdoor stage. When I first arrived on the island, I assumed there was a connection between the two. Just as Amsterdam Conservatory gets to use the Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ  and the Royal College of Music has access to the Royal Albert Hall, I thought UHMC had access to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).

Well, it doesn’t work that way. UHMC is not a conservatory. Yet the MACC is very much a world-class facility with state-of-the-art acoustics and instruments. Perhaps the association is not about sending students to perform on stage but to fill the seats with last-minute discount tickets, as is offered elsewhere. While students cannot afford higher priced tickets, they can tolerate the uncertainty of not having a ticket well in advance.

In England, there are always last-minute standby tickets (lowest price for whatever is available) about 30 minutes to 1 hour before the show. These are offered to students, unwaged, low-income, and pensioners. One of the perks of studying in London was attending concerts at the South Bank, Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall, and countless other venues, on a last-minute standby student discount. Could such a perk be offered to the 4,000 students at Maui College? If they know of this discount, they can look out for it.

** From the point of economics, one could argue that those that can afford to pay for a ticket will not necessarily buy the most expensive ticket. Thus the best seats risk being unsold. To avoid such front-row seats being empty, offer these to those who are flexible with time and tolerant of uncertainty yet can’t afford the high prices. The rationale is that these seats would otherwise not get sold at all.

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

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