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HPHS Students Help Ravinia Boost Youth Attendance

To market classical to teens, Ravinia asks the experts.

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."

Bob Levi July 31, 2011 at 04:49 PM
How ironic! I offered to present my "Opera in Pop Culture" program to HPHS students during the recent Focus on the Arts and the committee turned me down. (For more on the program series, see http://vimeo.com/26961341) I have a kid-friendly version that I've been trying to get into the public and private schools with extremely limited success - so far only one parochial school in Waukegan. Not only are symphonic concert attendees aging, but opera patrons too. As Duke Ellington said regarding any type of music (and I'm paraphrasing), "If is sounds good and makes you feel good, then it IS good!" Classical and opera music may not be for everyone, but I feel kids should be exposed to it and make their choices. I applaud Ravinia and the high schools for their efforts in getting young people involved in classical music.
Amy Greenebaum August 01, 2011 at 05:17 PM
The time to expose young people to opera is at younger ages. The Chicago Public Schools have many programs of this type, including "Hip Hopera" created by the extraordinarily talented maestro Francesco Milioto. Chicago Opera Theatre and the CSO have extensive outreach programs to elementary and middle schools. Also, The now-defunct Opera Theatre North (Opera Theatre Highland Park) had much success with our programs for children, presenting the Magic Flute and other shorter operas. We also had an outreach program to middle schools to foster an appreciation for opera and classical music. Perhaps you should collaborate with those already successful programs. As a coordinator of Focus on the Arts, I can tell you that opera did appear in our 2011 Focus on the Arts and was presented in a way best fitting high school audiences. Ravinia should be applauded for their forward thinking and utilizing high school students for their marketing strategy. Amy Greenebaum, former marketing director of Opera Theatre North (Highland Park) and co-coordinator HPHS Focus on the Arts
Bob Levi August 01, 2011 at 05:23 PM
I attended the all-Tchaikovsky program at Ravinia last night and noted lots of teenagers in attendance. So it looks like the marketing ideas developed between the Ravinia folks and the HPHS advisory committee has had an impact on CSO attendance. One additional note: We sat on the lawn just west of the pavilion and had a chance to observe the standees at the back of the pavilion and people strolling by. We saw parents carrying infants and quite a few kids ranging in age up to preteens. A couple of parents lifted their toddlers up so they could see the CSO while performing. Some even explained to their kids what a conductor did. (I could tell by the kids waving their arms.) While it's great to have young ones there (Ravinia had held an instrument petting zoo before the performance), having the 30-something parents attend was a good sign. I don't know exactly why young parents came. It could have been the 5 pm concert start, the petting zoo, the free lawn admission at CSO concerts for kids under 15 or a combination, but the park was jammed. Nice respectful crowd and a great evening.
Bob Levi August 01, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Amy, I offered to audition my Opera in Pop Culture program to the HPHS Focus on the Arts committee, but to no avail. When I was informed that my program wouldn't be on the agenda, no reason was given. I was a bit surprised by all of this. I've had great success in presenting these programs to adults, but I'd really like to reach out to kids more. Please send me a message through my Facebook page. I'll give you my phone number so we can talk further. I'd like to get your ideas as to how to move forward with my opera programs for kids.
Bryce Robertson August 02, 2011 at 12:52 AM
Bob - as one of the coordinators of the event, I'm glad to hear that the attendance was both large and respectful! When we were planning, I had a few self-established "classical addicts" approach me with their concern of having "rowdy" teenagers in attendance at the concerts. I assured them that their fears were unnecessary, and I'm glad to see that my promise had backing. My hope is that the effect of our program, along with others in the area, will allow more students (and their families) to appreciate all genres of music for years to come!

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