In an effort to bolster youth attendance at classical music concerts, joined forces last school year with a small but determined group of (HPHS)students.
The result is the Classical Youth Initiative, responsible for several teen-oriented programs during this summer’s 75th annual Chicago Symphony Orchestra residency at Ravinia, including Sunday’s “Cannon Ball 2011.”
Nick Pullia, Director of Communications at Ravinia, brought his idea for a teen program to HPHS just in time for the school’s biennial , a three-day celebration of local artists and professionals.
“Classical music programs are competing for scarce dollars and are also not usually at the top of the list for young people,” Pullia said. “With the CSO right in their backyard, it would be a shame if [students] graduated high school without taking advantage of it.”
Working with students
Ravinia has tried a number of methods over the years to draw in a younger crowd, ranging from classical renditions of popular music to educational seminars. Pullia realized the best approach would be to work with teenagers themselves.
“I can sit there all day and think of ideas, but why not turn to young people and ask their point of view,” Pullia said. “Their minds work in different ways.”
After advertising and receiving applications for a new opportunity to learn about marketing and work with Ravinia, Pullia assembled a Ravinia Student Advisory Board of 13 HPHS students who were passionate about music, business or both. Over the course of four meetings, Pullia and three of his colleagues from Ravinia worked with the group and helped them develop two marketing strategies for the upcoming summer. The final product was presented to classmates, teachers and community members at Focus on the Arts.
“They were a really great, high-energy group of kids--really fun to work with,” Pullia said. “They understood the problem and came up with ideas right away.”
The first part of their plan eliminated the admission fee for any CSO concert for high school and college students and created a competition among local high schools: the high school that sends the most attendees over the course of the summer will receive a $1000 grant toward its music program. Sixteen high schools are involved so far, and three -- Highland Park, Deerfield and New Trier -- are neck-in-neck for first place, Pullia said.
The Advisory Board’s second idea was an event held exclusively for teens before a Sunday CSO concert. This idea will come to fruition Sunday at 3:30 p.m., complete with free food, games and prizes. The event’s name-- Cannon Ball-- is a play on Sunday evening’s all-Tchaikovsky program, which features live cannons. Students who attend will earn double points for their high school. Nearly 200 teens have indicated on Facebook that they are attending.
Part of the team
Jonas Tarm, 17, a member of the Advisory Board, composes music, has been playing violin for 10 years and plans on pursuing a career in classical music performance. He said even though the sessions with Ravinia staff were informative, it didn’t feel like a classroom setting.
“It was more casual and ‘real-world,’” Tarm said. “Ravinia made us feel like part of the team right away.”
Another student board member, Dara Canchester, 15, said she is passionate about classical music and wants her peers to be able to enjoy it as much as she does. Canchester is interested in marketing as well, so she figured the Advisory Board was a perfect opportunity for her.
“We learned that it’s all about how you market the product-- if you can put it in a great light, you can sell it no matter what,” Canchester said.
Pullia he thinks the initiative has been hugely successful so far and that he would like to expand the program to other high schools in the future. He described it as an “in-school internship in marketing.”
Tarm said he is hopeful that this program will expand in the future and that it has real potential to change Ravinia's audience.
"As a member of the next generation of classical musicians, I'm concerned about the next generation of audience," Tarm said. "I need an audience that's just as excited about this music as I am."