Most readers will be aware of the concert series held at St Mary’s Perivale. We currently hold 100 concerts per year, with an average attendance of 56. Of the 88 concerts so far this year, 24 were held on Sunday afternoons (chamber music or piano recitals), 37 on Tuesday afternoon (our piano recital series), and 27 on Wednesday evenings – mainly chamber music. Attendances have been good for the Sunday and Tuesday afternoon concerts, but have been falling slightly on Wednesday evenings. This small qualitative survey was undertaken in October 2017 to ascertain the views of our audience on our concerts, and to ask for suggestions for improvement, in the hope that we can maintain or increase audience size, particularly for our Wednesday concerts. The questionnaire was handed out to audience members, and 71 completed at least part of it. The questions are listed below, with a summary of their responses in black.
- What do you like about our concerts ? The largest number – 46 – referred to the very high standard of the musicians and music-making, described as ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’, and ‘excellent’ etc. Our beautiful venue, with its own special ambience, was mentioned by 29 respondents. Twenty six referred to the friendliness and informality of the concerts, described as ‘convivial’ and ‘welcoming’, and the choice and wide variety of programmes was mentioned by 25. The intimacy of the concerts and proximity of the audience to the musicians was referred to by 15, and 13 praised our excellent acoustics. Ten respondents referred to its convenient location, 6 to the enthusiasm of the organisers, 3 stated that they liked ‘everything’, 2 mentioned the duration of the concerts (60 minutes on Tuesday afternoons) and single respondents mentioned the comfortable seating, the affordability of the concerts and the fact that no prior booking was needed.
- What do you NOT like about our concerts ? Half the respondents (36 out of 71) replied ‘ nothing’ or similar words, such as ‘don’t change a thing’ and ‘I like everything’. A small number referred to specific dislikes. Three complained that the repertoire was ‘too conservative’ and one that it was ‘too modern’. This is further considered later in the survey. Two thought that there was insufficient space for socializing at the end of the concert, two found the chairs to be ‘hard’ and requested cushions. Individual respondents thought that the chairs were too close together, that the piano can be too loud, and were annoyed by people taking photographs during concerts.
- How can we improve ?
The choice of musicians …. Fifteen thought that the current choice was ‘OK’ or ‘Fine as it is’. Thirteen requested more string quartets, 11 more solo piano, 11 more vocal items, 8 more piano trios and 6 more wind items. Conversely, 5 wanted less solo piano. There were individual requests for a brass quintet, for recorders and lutes, for ‘unusual instruments’,for guitar, mandolin and banjo, for less string quartets and less wind.
The choice of music in general ….Ten respondents thought that the current mix was’fine’, and a further seven wanted more ‘pure classical’ repertoire. Eighteen wanted more early music and baroque repertoire, whereas 2 requested less early music. Ten wanted ‘more modern’ repertoire, whereas 10 wanted ‘less modern’. Two requested jazz.
The choice of composers …. We want to know which are your favourites. Please indicate which would make you MORE likely to attend with a TICK, and LESS likely to attend with a CROSS, leaving ‘neutral’ ones unmarked.
The following shows the numbers of ticks (‘y’) and crosses (‘x’) received by each composer, arranged in order of popularity
Beethoven 51y 1x / Mozart 48y 0 x / Chopin 44y 3x / Schubert 43y 1x / Rachmaninov 41y 2x /Brahms 40y 1x / Mendelssohn 40y 2x / Liszt 36y 2x / Bach 34y 4x / Schumann 31y 1x /Debussy 32y 4x / Ravel 27y 5x / Shostakovich 26y 10 x / Prokofiev 20y 11x / Bartok 16y 13x
Any other composers you would like to hear ? ………….This produced a wide range of responses. The most commonly mentioned additional composers were Tchaikovsky (9), Vivaldi (7), Handel (6), Grieg, Haydn and Dvorak (5), and Elgar, Faure, Telemann and Vaughan Williams (4).
The social aspects of our concerts …. These were rated as ‘fine’ or ‘very good’ by 17 respondents, and six commented favourably on the tea and cakes provided on Sunday afternoons. Four respondents stated that they were unconcerned by the social aspects. Two respondents commented that the church was too small and cramped for socializing, and another stressed the need for the chairs to be moved to the side of the church at the end of concerts to provide more space. Another suggested the use of the chancel for socializing. One respondent commented that coming alone made it difficult to socialize, and another thought that more introductions could be made to other members of the audience. Two respondents regretted the absence of red wine, which is never used because of our light-coloured carpets. One respondent wondered whether a more extended social occasion for the audience might be held.
The practical organisation of our concerts …. Twelve respondents thought the current organisation of the concerts was ‘good’, ‘fine as it is’ or ‘just right’. Fifteen expressed a preference for Sunday afternoon concerts, 16 for Tuesday afternoons and 6 for Wednesday evenings. Three stated that the Wednesday evening concerts clashed with other fixed commitments. Two respondents suggested that the Tuesday afternoon concerts might commence at 1pm rather than 2pm, to give more time to pick up grandchildren from school. One wondered whether the Tuesday afternoon concerts were taking audience away from those on Wednesday evenings.
- What else influences your decision to attend a concert ? Thirty four respondents mentioned their busy lives, with other clashing commitments. Seven referred to the adverse influence of cold or wet weather. Other factors mentioned including traffic problems (3), clashes with other concerts (2), transport problems (2), and health issues, carer commitments, costs, and the long distance from Perivale, each mentioned by a single respondent.
- Publicity – Any thoughts on how can we raise our profile ?There were few comments on this. Two were concerned that further publicity might lead to problems with over-capacity audiences. Two suggested advertising in ‘Ealing Today’ (a local on-line news service) and other suggestions included posters, advertising on local radio and on stations, and leaving more leaflets in schools and shops. We produce leaflets for each season’s concerts. Do you find them helpful? 64 respondents replied ‘yes’, and 1 replied ‘no’
Do you use our Text Messaging Service ? 13 respondents replied ‘yes’, and 54 replied ‘no’ If so, is it helpful ? 12 replied ‘yes’ 0 replied ‘no’
Do you use the St Mary’s website ? 38 respondents replied ‘yes’, and 25 replied ‘no’ If so, is it useful ? 34 replied ‘yes’, 0 replied ‘no’
Have you seen our publicity material on Facebook ? 10 replied ‘yes’ and 55 replied ‘no’
Have you seen our publicity material on Twitter ? 5 replied ‘yes’ and 50 replied ‘no’
Have you viewed our Youtube channel ? 19 replied ‘yes’ and 43 replied ‘no’
- Any other comments or suggestions not covered by the above?
There were many warm comments from respondents, with eight specifically thanking us for the concerts, and others advising us to ‘just keep going’ and stating that they couldn’t see how the concerts could be improved. Single respondents made various suggestions. These included the purchase of better quality music stands, the inclusion of some lecture recitals, and the reservation of some seats by the entrance for late-comers. Other ideas from single respondents included more special or anniversary events, the inclusion of programme notes, the shortening of biographical notes, the consideration of ‘streaming’ some concerts, consultation with an acoustic engineer to see if our acoustics could be improved further, the provision of another toilet, and the erection of a marquee in the churchyard for social occasions,
Discussion :The overall results were overwhelmingly positive, with many gratifying comments. The most important attribute was deemed to be the consistently high standard of performance. It was pleasing to have so many mentioning the friendliness and informality of our concerts, which we try to cultivate, in contrast to the perceived rather ‘stuffy’ atmosphere at some Central London venues. The views on our choice of music and musicians was similar to those in previous surveys, with those wanting more early music balanced out by those wanting more modern, and those wanting more or less solo piano music balancing out as well. The negative reaction to 20th century composers was slightly less than expected, so perhaps we could afford to be slightly more adventurous with repertoire, but this might well have a negative impact on audience numbers.
There were remarkably few areas of complaint. A couple of people complained about the chairs being unduly hard, and we may obtain a few cushions, although this is a minority view. One thought that they were positioned too close together, and we have now taken notice, leaving a slight gap between them, and encroaching on the nave aisle. Some commented on the lack of space to socialize at the end of concerts. This is particularly relevant on Sunday afternoons, when the audience needs to stay seated while hot tea is served. One way suggested was to make use of the chancel as a social area at the end of concerts, by pushing the piano to the back, and closing it, and removing chairs and stands as appropriate. This is a good idea, and we will encourage it. Otherwise, we will work harder at creating more space after concerts in the nave on Wednesday evenings, and to involve everyone in the socializing.
The questions on publicity yielded some useful results. The seasonal leaflets were universally thought to be useful, and have an important role in addition to the weekly email flyers. Conversely, over a third didn’t use the website, although almost all would have been viewing the weekly email flyers. Only a small number used the Text Messaging Service, but they all thought it was useful, so perhaps we need to encourage more people to adopt this service. Few had seen our material on Facebook and Twitter, but this serves an important role in publicizing our concerts among musicians. Advertising in ‘Ealing Today’ was suggested, and we will pursue this, since it has a large circulation and is free.
As always, some interesting and unexpected points emerged from the questionnaire. One person stated that the weekly email flyers were always diverted to their ‘junk’ folder, despite attempts to change this. We will discuss with our technical experts to see if there is anything we can do about this. One person complained about our music stands being ‘wobbly’, and after discussion with our musicians, we will purchase some better quality ones. Two people requested red wine, but we have to maintain our embargo on this, because of our light-coloured carpet. We will indeed keep some seats available near the door to accommodate late-comers. The request for a second toilet is rather speculative, since the church didn’t have a single one for the first 800 years of its life !
Despite the enthusiasm of our audience, audience numbers continue to be variable and occasionally disappointing, particularly for Wednesday evening concerts. From the survey results, this seems to be due mainly to the inevitable clashes with other commitments, and the ‘busy lives’ of our audience, as well as the influence of adverse weather. Yet when we programme popular classics, played by well-known musicians, we still attract a good audience, almost regardless of the weather, and (presumably) of their busy lives. Our challenge is to provide concerts which are sufficiently enticing to attract a good audience, regardless of the weather and rival attractions.
Summary: This survey shows that we are providing a popular service for local music-lovers, and in doing so we are raising funds to maintain our beautiful church for future generations to enjoy, as well as providing valuable performing experience to many of the best young musicians in London. We will take notice of the small points listed above, and otherwise continue our concerts as before. We hope that this will help us to build up our audience further over the coming months, particularly on our Wednesday evening concerts.