“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things!” “The Simpsons”
As I began to write this blog to describe Monique’s * story, I had no clue how to finish it. It’s a bit of an unusual situation but I bet many of you have dealt with something similar. You may not have known you had this problem, but trust me, you have. Then this morning, as I was scrolling down my Twitter feed, I noticed a ReTweet, a perfect ReTweet, by Americans for the Arts. And the solution became very clear.
Have you heard about Americans for the Arts? They are a Washington D.C. based arts advocacy group and if you don’t know about them, you should. Probably more arts administration and arts marketing focused than anything; they are the ones fighting for us in Congress and across the country. They advocate for all arts; performing and visual, public art and arts education and more. Many of their programs and resources cut across genres and can be applicable to many types of situations.
This morning’s ReTweet struck me as one of those which cuts across; anyone with an administrator and employees, board of directors, ticket person, ushers or anyone else who at one time or another represents your group should take to heart, “It takes everyone in your organization to keep a patron, but only one to lose a patron.”
Now back to Monique and her story. Directing and administrating a large choral organization in the northeast, Monique loves her job. She conducts the large adult chorale as well as the more elite, highly auditioned chamber choir. She supervises the youth choral program and the children’s program and is very supportive of their directors. They work together on unified yearly concert themes, share accompanists and other instrumental personnel. Every other year, they have a large winter holiday concert together which is considered the highlight of their community’s year.
As you may imagine, there are many singers who sing with Monique whose children sing with the youth and children’s choruses. As you may also imagine, the children and adults go to each other’s concerts.
Monique’s organization uses the large high school auditorium and use senior citizens from the local community center as their ushers for all concerts, their “Angels.” The senior citizens from the community center has been ushering for Monique’s choral organization since its founding, almost 50 years ago. They had usher training for the beginning few decades but since most of the ushers seemed to know what they were doing, stopped having the training. Big mistake.
And yes, I am getting to Monique’s problem; it’s the ushers. They have been alienating audience, donors and even singers in Monique’s choral organization for years. It wasn’t until the “Bitty Singers*” (the youngest choral group) concert and recruiting event this past September Monique became acutely aware of what was going on. And she is livid.
For this youngest chorus, and for all the children’s groups, there is no age restriction for attending concerts. The rationale has always been younger siblings could eventually become members and might even become excited about music. They actually do some audience training during these concerts, such as when to clap, and encourage those with crying babies to step out if need be but are welcomed back in when they quiet down. These are very family oriented concerts, with all welcome.
One of Monique’s Board Members (and a huge donor) has a grandchild who is almost old enough for the Bitty Singers and brought her to the September event. Or tried to. One of the ushers stopped them and refused to allow them into the concert. The child wasn’t making a ruckus or crying or anything; the usher simply “thought” this child was too young and took it upon herself to not allow her in. Needless to say, this Board Member was furious, wanting to resign from the board and not donate “another nickel” all because this usher got full of herself.
It came out during discussions about this particular situation, many audience members and even some of the children chorus singers who attended concerts have had issues with ushers. These issues ranged from them not doing their jobs (not handing out programs or blocking the way into the auditorium or just not being where they were supposed to) to refusing to seat people (such as the grandchild of the Board Member) or being nasty about helping find seats. One of Monique’s chamber choir members said his father (in a wheelchair) was told there was no room for “someone like him” in the auditorium by an especially nasty usher.
Monique tells me she knows ushers are possibly the first contact many may have with her organization. She and her Board (led by that Grandmother) will have usher training from now on before every subscription concert. For the rest of this year, the Youth Chorus members will usher for every concert except their own. The others are out because: “It takes everyone in your organization to keep a patron, but only one to lose a patron.”