How did you become a concertgoer? A question from The Schubert Club’s new Board President

By Barry Kempton

Today’s post is written by The Schubert Club’s Board President, Kim Severson. 

Are you one of the thousands of patrons who attend Schubert Club concerts? If so, have you ever considered how you became a concertgoer?  What or who first brought you to a classical music concert and why do you keep buying concert tickets?  That is a question we as an organization need to ask, and answer, if we hope to attract people of all ages to our concerts.

So I thought I would tell you how I became a concertgoer.  It seems like an appropriate first act for the new President of the Board of this wonderful old organization. 

I was raised in small towns in the Dakotas and Minnesota and never attended a concert, other than the ones I played in.  I played the flute, and later the bassoon (not very well, mind you), in the grade school, junior high, and high school band and orchestra.  I loved the concerts in which we played, especially the high school Christmas concert (yes, it was called a Christmas concert back then) when the girls wore long dresses and the boys wore shirts and ties. Other than those twice or thrice yearly events, the closest I ever came to a concert hall was Sunday at church when the choir sang. 

I came to be a concertgoer through a bit of larceny.  I can admit it now because it was 38 years ago and occurred in another country.  Was it a misdemeanor or a felony?  I have no idea, but the statute of limitations ran years ago and I am unlikely to be extradited any time soon. I was an impecunious student in Oxford, England.  My college room was two houses east of the Holywell Music Room, the first purpose-built concert hall in Europe. The Holywell Music Room was and still is a tiny jewel of a chamber music hall, white on the outside, with a small flight of stairs leading up from Holywell Street to the double front doors.  I had a great friend who was studying music and who was even more impecunious than I.  Every Friday he took the train to London for his cello lessons and on his way back to college on Friday evening he would walk past the Holywell Music Room and listen outside the double doors to the first half of the evening’s concert.  If he liked what he heard he would dash to my room (no cell phones then) to collect me.  We would rush to the Music Room, arriving during intermission when concertgoers emerged from the hall and milled around on the sidewalk.  We mingled with the small crowd and, when intermission was over, discreetly made our way inside the building, hanging back until nearly everyone was seated so we could pick out a couple of unoccupied places.   

I now pay for my concert tickets, but nothing can quite match the thrill of those stolen second halves.  I was like Keats looking into Chapman’s Homer, and it is perhaps not incidental that I first read Homer around the same time.  The stolen concerts were mostly, as befit the space, string quartets and trios, though after all these years I couldn’t tell you exactly what I heard.  With my friend at my side I learned how to sit through a concert (well, half a concert), how to keep from coughing, how to listen, and how to evaluate what I was hearing.  That spring, my friend and I actually bought tickets to hear the great cellist Paul Tortelier play a memorable recital in the Sheldonian Theatre down the street. I was hooked, and I’ve been a paying concertgoer ever since.

How did you become a concertgoer, and why do you keep coming back?   Tell us your story by responding to this post. We look forward to hearing your stories!