‘I can’t get a date to go to the symphony…’

‘I can’t get a date to go to the symphony…’


norman lebrecht

March 07, 2014

College student Parker Perry was attracted by the Cleveland Orchestra’s $10 offer. But he couldn’t get any of the girls in his class to go along, so had to take his brother. Then there was the $11 parking charge. And the attitude…. Read on here.

cleveland chorus



  • I almost always go to concerts by myself — the focus of the event is the music, not the social interaction (although I have had some very interesting conversations, both with those whom I know and those whom I do not). Perry is right to observe that listening at a concert requires a particular concentration: this may be underdeveloped in many people, but can be acquired. However, I disagree with the doom-mongering about the future of audiences, since many of the older people who now go to concerts did not when they were my age — people do not stop developing and changing once they have passed twenty-one! We should be careful not to allow the obsession for young audiences to be at the expense of the elderly, for some of whom concert-going may well be an important opportunity to get out and about. For that reason, I find the attempts by some people to hack away at certain conventions of audience etiquette, many of which exist for good reasons, somewhat misguided. Furthermore, I find it particularly galling when middle-aged commentators justify such attempts on the basis of sweeping generalisations of my generation (funnily enough, some of us do want to enjoy the music without being interrupted by mobile telephones, latecomers, and coughing).

    • Ziggy says:

      Sasha, I agree with you. At school, we had a visiting trio: all (to us, in our early teens) ‘elderly’ ladies. They played music that I’ve only just come around to enjoying – and I’m in my 60s. But we were told very firmly how to behave: sit still, close your eyes, concentrate on the music, and don’t cough (“Coughing is controllable, girls: if you really must cough, leave the hall”).

      Ah! Youth is SO wasted on the young!

  • Colin Rosenthal (@colinrosenthal) says:

    “”How do I find Row L?” I asked a different employee.

    “The rows are in alphabetical order, sir,” I received another polite reply that I did not deserve.”

    Oh the barriers we put in the way of high culture 🙂

  • As long as the Cleveland body encourages participation, then they should succeed. Let’s say that for every first-timer like Mr Perry who finds the experience shaded with dullness, there’s one whose heart or mind is touched, and who becomes a convert, or an aficionado. I wonder if Mr Perry’s difficulty in finding a companion was due to his requests being similarly shaded with a kind of “let’s go, it might be ok, but probably not” tone. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. For the record, there need not be any stigma attached to “going solo”. I am 30 and do it all the time. Yes I do wish I knew a someone to go with sometimes, but I wonder if a mark of maturity(?) or being cultured(?) perhaps, is the ability to be self sufficient: to go to and to enjoy events alone.

  • Elaine Fine says:

    This is one college student writing about his experience. Every semester I get honest appraisals of concert experiences from dozens of students that offset this experience because I teach a class that prepares students for what they will see and hear when they go to a concert. This kid was obviously not prepared.

    He could have said the same thing about going to a museum (the pictures were boring), reading a book (the pages were full of words), or going to a Shakespeare play (I couldn’t understand what the actors were saying). It is a sad statement indeed about the lack of culture in the average college student’s experience. Perhaps if colleges put more emphasis on keeping arts programs funded (and promoting them the way they promote their football and basketball programs), more college students would be interested in going to concerts.

    Then again, if I were to write about a sporting event and didn’t know anything about the game, I could probably write a comparable essay about my ignorance and experience. And many of my younger students write about taking a parent, grandparent, or significant other to the concerts they need to write about in order to pass the course I teach.

    At least 90% of my students say that the would go to a concert again. Many of them wished they had gone earlier in the semester.

    • Leslie says:

      Yes, Elaine. It’s all in being prepared. or open. If Parker continues to go, he will learn this new language.

      Without music there would be no life.

    • Marguerite Foxon says:

      Agree. What this illustrates is the end result of giving kids no long term arts education in school. How can you expect most of them to enjoy classical music? I had the same problem with art galleries as my school provided no introduction to art and it’s taken me years to get to a point where I want to go to art shows because I found them as boring overall as he found the concert.

    • JJC says:

      Wow, you are actually paid to teach a class about going to concerts? Blows my mind that anybody would think that is necessary or effective.

    • William Safford says:

      I’m reminded of Andy Griffith and football:


  • Bcello says:

    Very interesting read. At least the guy was curious enough to give it a try. Left me wondering what exactly was on his “spotify” list ?

    Mr Perry mentioned how long and dull the songs were, but said nothing of the second half’s symphony. I am willing to bet he and the brother did indeed duck out at intermission…

    Attending any kind of concert does require a certain amount of focus – just sitting still is challenging for some people, judging by audiences these days. I find a lot of fidgeting, whispering and flipping through programmes to be the norm.

  • G Ell says:

    The story of my life. I nearly always attend musical events by myself. It saves me the aggravation of having to explain music and musical culture to friends who ought to know much better. They don’t even know who the performers are or care to know about them, let alone any of the music on the programs, etc. It is all wallpaper to them or an excuse for an evening away from the house, and it is pathetic, infuriating, and frustrating.

  • Leslie says:

    I hope Parker reads these.

    It seems as if this kind of music is a new language.

    Please return on your free tickets—again and again. Your ears, your brain your heart will learn this language and you will find the music teaching you.

    I can’t tell you how many free or expensive tickets I have not been able to give away in Boston. Sad.

    And your parking for 11 dollars is nothing. In Boston it’s 25. In NYC 40, 50 or 60.

    Please don’t give up. I am a senior. I most always go alone, but have formed friendships at the symphony. I wish I could take advantage of the cheap young people and student tickets. As a senior on a pension that isn’t great, I would go to many more concerts, if I could get student priced tickets.

  • robcat2075 says:

    I’ve had this experience as a 40s and 50s adult.

    When people realize “going to the symphony” means actually going to the symphony… they’re not interested.

    None-the-less, I’ll note that Dallas has more than a microscopic proportion of younger attendees now and if you buy season tickets you get free parking.

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    I know a young lady that attendsCase Western, and she always goes to concerts. She would be the perfect date!

    • I hate going to concerts alone, although I’ve done it many times over the years. A few years ago, I found and joined a MeetUp group for classical music lovers. Before or after each performance, we go to the concert hall’s cafeteria or some place nearby so we can eat and talk to each other. It’s wonderful! Although I live in an area near Washington DC, where you’d expect to find many classical music lovers, I rarely do on my own, and then it’s just one person.

    • William Safford says:

      If I lived in Ohio, I would offer to accompany her to concerts.

      Hmmm, maybe this is an idea for a new app — matching people to attend concerts together?

  • NYMike says:

    As someone who had a violin in his hands at age 3 and who went on to become a professional musician, I have a one-sided view of people who can’t understand classical music. That said, I do remember music broadcasts specifically tailored to daytime grade school classes, high school music appreciation classes, in addition to all the weekend broadcasts of NBC, Philadelphia Orchestra, NY Philharmonic, etc. Sadly, most if not all, gone.

  • Eric in Boston says:

    I moved to Boston in 1990 and developed a love for classical music and then live performances. I bought tickets to the BSO in part to force myself to ask women out on dates. Sometimes I had to take my roommate’s girlfriend but I never went alone. Eventually this effort worked. I found my own girlfriend who became my wife and we continue to enjoy concerts. In hindsight this approach served to winnow out women who would not enjoy the concert experience so I am not one of those who have to attend concerts alone.

  • From my own college days frequenting the Cleveland Orchestra, I learned a trick to make it even more affordable: you can park for free on the street directly across from Severance Hall on the other side of the little pond.

  • Vicky says:

    It seems that the way to ensnare youth into the concentrated enjoyment on offer in symphony concerts is to populate the area with lots of youth orchestras. In the San Francisco Bay Area there are seven large youth orchestra combines (comprising a senior orchestra which is fed by various preparatory-level groups) and assorted high school music programs, one of which I conduct. When I attend a Saturday night symphony performance in San Francisco, I see high-school-aged youth dotting the audience. Some of them I know: they’re in youth orchestras or in my orchestra or attend my brass institute. When I’m there and they aren’t, various youth “like” my Facebook statii describing the performance. Perhaps if Cleveland were to nurture up a half-dozen youth orchestras, they would have high school audience members in greater numbers. I assume the same goes for collegiate musicians?

  • I am 72 years old and if and when I invite a so-called lady to a PSO concert (that’s Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) my record for the last ten years has been deplorable. In 10 years only once a “lady” accepted and she enjoyed the program. I should add she was older than I. Sadly, other invitations are very welcomed such as those that only include going to a very expensive restaurant. I am sure they are very hungry to be with me (NOT !!!) rather than hungry for classical music. Consequently I don’t even bother anymore to invite anybody to concerts and go alone. Come to think about it I enjoy them a lot more than when accompanied. Then I go to eat to the same expensive resto all by myself. At the end it costs me a lot less money and I am in good company, to wit, myself. Am I bitter? Yes! However the music is so sweet that I don’t mind in the end.

  • peggy says:

    “…older than my brother and I.” Looks like he needs more than just an education in music. As for the “only old people” attitude, I once heard a young musician point out that today’s “old people” were young once and today’s “young people” will attend concerts when time and money allow.

    • Julian says:

      true Peggy – this bizarre activity of classical music organizations to attract young people has me really puzzled. Classical music – generally – appeals to older, more mature people. And as the world’s populations age, there is no shortage of older people to attend concerts. I go frequently to Japan (am off there again in 2 days, as it happens) where the numerous, excellent orchestras play night after night to very full houses, made up mainly of perfectly well mannered, older people in suits and kimonos… they are fabulously attentive, are used to not chatting aimlessly on their cell phones, and listen to more Bruckner in a month than you would hear in most countries in a year! My idea of heaven on earth. Of course there are some young people there, as there are at concerts I go to (occasionally) here in Australia. But unless people want to be at a concert, I don’t want them anywhere near me, with their sighs and silly pouts – and I wish they would stay at home.

  • JK says:

    Young people who go to clubs, stop going there after a certain age. People change. Their preferences change. When I was a teen, I didn’t like operas. I actually hated listening to operas. My mother told me that is because I was too young, and I remember saying to her that age didn’t matter. 20 years later, I started to listen to operas, and now, I enjoy listening and even pay a lot to go and watch opera performances. That cute girl might become a fan of classical music in 20 years… who knows..

  • Babi Banerjee says:

    It is possible the writer did not care for or was unfamilar with the particular pieces which did not help. I discovered classical music in university when the only station I could get clearly was the Canadian national station, CBC. It played mostly classical during the day but newer music late at night. I discovered both. My first concert was a discount student deal just like this one and quite last minute. The main piece was Bruckner’s 7th symphony. Not really a starter piece. I enjoyed the concert experience but was not keen on the music itself. Later, I went out and bought a few recordings of popular Bruckner’s pieces. It was literally years before I came back to the 7th. I enjoy it now but it is certainly not as accessible as other more popular works. There appears to be an element of that in the writer’s experience here.

  • BobG says:

    It used to be that popular music and classical music were rather close in style. If you listened to Perry Como or Judy Garland, say, you wouldn’t find an opera singer to be a completely alien presence. But since the 50’s, when popular music largely turned away from extended melody, beautiful singing, and general decorum, the gap between what is popular and what is classical has grown into an unbridgeable gulf. It is no wonder that young people now find classical music (orchestral or vocal) so alien. We classical music fans might have a similar reaction going to a Noh play or a Chinese opera. (I admit I was bored to tears the first time I attended a Wagner opera.) Making the concert experience more comfortable (in some unspecified and probably unworkable way) won’t make any difference. The problem is much much deeper.

  • davistrain says:

    I haven’t been to many classical music performances lately, but my wife loves dance in general and ballet in particular, so we have gone to many performances at the LA Music Center and other “venues”. It’s not my first choice of where to spend an afternoon, but then I think of all the hours of practice and gravity defying skills that the dancers use for our appreciation, and want to thank them for doing what most of us can’t even dream of.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    I think this article proves that the symphony concert is well-nigh redundant. It’s little more than an artificial 19th century social practice that has been left far behind by modern communication. Before the advent of recording, film and television the concert was the only way of really getting to know the symphonic repertoire. Thanks to the high-minded Victorians, what had once been an informal get together to hear a Handel concerto became a semi-religious exercise of ‘improving the mind’. All well and good in its way. But such philanthropic intentions was – and remains – accompanied by snobbery of the worst kind. The so-called protocol the young guys in Cleveland encountered is part of that snobbery along with the lack of social interaction, which is the backbone of pop concerts and – I might add – the original concerts of the 18th century. You went to hear the music, but to have some fun as well! If you just want to sit alone and not speak to anyone you might as well stay at home and listen to CDs!

    I have been to many symphonic concerts all over Europe and enjoyed the musicianship of many great conductors/players/orchestras etc. but that was IN SPITE of my surroundings. As a rule I found concert halls stifling experiences – especially British ones, whose audiences tended to consist of snobby cliques and people who go purely to say they’ve been. The Barbican is an especially unfriendly place with its claustrophobic architecture and unwelcoming staff who can’t wait to get you out of there once the concert has finished. (A favourite tactic is to bang down the shutters on the bar as loudly as possible as you leave). The Royal Festival Hall isn’t much better. Frankly I don’t see the point of these events any more. Why put yourself through the expense and discomfort of it all when you can enjoy the music and the musicians at home via CD, TV and the internet? Pierre Boulez once called for the opera houses to be burned down. I say the same for the concert hall!

    • Julian says:

      Robert – I agree with quite a lot of what you say… I have enough cds here in my house to sink a ship – or run a private fm station – but I also love being in a hall and seeing – and of course hearing – a fantastic orchestra or soloist… the experience of seeing this happen in front of me cannot be replicated by cds (or by videos, which I have never bothered with). Concert halls have attracted some wonderful architects and I love to visit them as buildings. I agree re the Barbican… was there again a few weeks ago and nothing has changed in its 3 or 4 decades. But the LSO was fantastic, Daniel Harding most impressive! I am off tomorrow to Japan, which, musically, has to be one this planet’s best kept secrets!

      • Robert Kenchington, I disagree with you. I’ve never felt that the audience at a classical music concert was snobby and unresponsive to poor folk like me. Just because a woman is dressed in expensive, fashionable clothing, she may very well like the music. On occasion, for example, while standing in line for a soloist’s autograph, I’ve gotten into conversation with people near me whom I’ve never met before. We often find that we both love music and we both love the experience of seeing and hearing the performers up close and personal. Some of the star musicians are very interactive and personal with their fans. This all contributes to the joy of hearing beautiful music and knowing that it thrills other people as well as myself.

        I agree with Julian. I, too, have enough classical CDs to run my own radio station, and I frequently download from Youtube performances that I like, often by musicians who have passed and whom I would never have been able to hear in person. However, the experience of seeing and hearing a live performance is much more exciting than listening to a recording. You concentrate more on a live performance. often hearing and seeing things that you would have missed in a recording. Also, there is an almost palpable feeing that many others in the concert hall are having intense emotional experiences similar to mine. Nothing beats the excitement of a live performance. It is even better if you are lucky enough to attend the concert with friends who are music lovers and with whom you can share your experiences and insights.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    If, in listening to music, all you’re interested in is an accurate performance of the composer’s notes, then by all means just listen to recordings. They will be close to flawless, note-wise. A live performance is just that. It is a living, breathing, creation. There will possibly be some less than perfect notes, but there can be a magic that few recordings have.

    I have been doing both live performance and recording professionally for decades. I love doing both, but they are different animals both for player and listener.