Contemporary Audience Rituals at Classical Concerts

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Contemporary cultural consumers are now much more likely to listen to recorded classical music in a private setting than attend a concert. One effect of this has been the aging of the audience at classical concerts. Many experts assume that most of this concert audience will simply die out in the next 10-15 years. This might suggest the demise of the classical concert – but there is still considerable interest in this musical style among the younger population. Thus, the problem seems not to be the music, but rather the form in which it is conveyed. Since the second half of the 19th century little or nothing has changed in the dramaturgical process, the design of the concert hall and (particularly for this thesis) the rigorous ritualization of the concert itself. The question for concert promoters is how to change the concert format to attract a younger audience. This study focuses primarily on changes in ritualization, applying Randal Collins' (2005) Ritual Framework, which considers: community feeling, group assembly, barriers to outsiders, bodily co-presence, and mutual focus of attention or shared mood. From my position, with my many years of professional experience in the organization of classical concerts, concert’s strict ritualization appears ‘fusty and old-fashioned’ to younger concert goers and literally discourages them from attending. This proposition was examined through Action Learning (AL). An Action Learning Group (ALG), representing the desired target group of a younger classical audience, identified rituals they felt detracted from the current classical concert experience, developed interventions (changes to concert ritualization) that were subsequently implemented at real concerts and audience responses gauged (audience survey). Based on the knowledge gained, a new concert format was developed, tailored primarily to a subset of this younger concert audience (the family with young children) and again responses to it sought through audience feedback. This study demonstrates that fulfilling today’s concert visitors’ individual expectations is essential to achieving satisfaction with classical concerts. The shared experience with friends or acquaintances proved to be of overriding importance, moving individual expectations of the event’ staging to the background. The study also shows that the sense of community in the audience can be increased if the focus of attention can be reinforced – even if not necessarily only on the music. In addition, the study demonstrates that changes in ritualization, which reduce barriers to outsiders, have a positive impact on the audience in times of ubiquitous concern about equality and discrimination. Finally, the study also highlights that it is not enough to merely change the ritualization of a classical concert to significantly improve its attractiveness to a younger audience.
Translated title of the contributionZeitgenössische Publikumsrituale bei Klassikkonzerten
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Gloucestershire
  • Ward, Philippa, Supervisor, External person
  • Davies, Barry, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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