The Coral Ridge Experience
Although worship is the central and most spiritually effective place for music, it can also serve the greatly needed purposes of wholesome entertainment and enrichment of life through the arts by way of a concert series. As co-founder of the church concert series at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, I would like to share a bit about our series, which started in a church that seated 700 with a membership of 2,000 people.
The basic reasons for starting a formal concert series were these:
Entertainment: An endeavor to provide wholesome entertainment for the church membership and the outside community.
Outreach: An attempt to draw the outside community into the church with the hope that people would return to a worship service.
Edification: Enriching people’s lives through great music and a spiritual message.
We started with no money, but only an idea and some talent within the church. Because the first three performances were given by “in house” talent, we were able , through collections at the concerts, to build a small reserve to contract outside artists for the coming year.
The concerts that first year were:
Church Organist in concert
Church director of music in vocal recital
Chamber music concert with instruments and choir
At this point you may be saying “We cannot have a concert series, we have tired it many times…our people do not come, they do not appreciate the music, and we have tried to raise money and can’t seem to do it.” Don’t feel alone in your negative thoughts. Every church faces these problems in the beginning. The answer is to begin where you are, with what good talent you possess with the church or outside artists, and stay within the budget you can afford.
From the very beginning, one of the most important goals of our concerts was that people would receive a spiritual message as well as a musical treat. After all, the church is not merely a concert hall but a place of drawing people into a personal and close relationship with God. It seemed imperative to us that the performers in our series be believers in Christ who, at some point in the program, would be willing to share something of that belief with the audience. Naturally, this limited the performers we were ale to have for our series.
The second year of concerts was termed a concert series and was held on Monday evenings. There were four concerts of varied styles of music, all paid for by collections at the events. The average attendance was 310 — a bit more than the first year — and gradually interest and excitement over the series began to grow.
The following season, all concerts were still free to anyone in attendance. However, we asked for contributions, and anyone who supported the programs through a financial gift was listed in the programs. This was the first year in a new sanctuary, which seated 2,500, and the average attendance was 1,051.
In the fourth year, a patron program was initiated. Patrons were given a reserved seat (seats cost $50) for all 16 concerts, including the one ticketed concert. This was the first year that a ticketed event was presented. To meet some of the performer’s fees, it became necessary to ticket specific concerts completely. However, except to patrons, all other concerts were free. Attendance again grew to an average of 1,72.
In the fifth year, we made a small difference in the patron program. We felt church members deserved preferential treatment, even though it was hoped that the general public would always attend. The reserved patron seats were first offered to church members at a lower price ($50), and then to the general public ($60)
Each year in March or April, the new season for the next year was announced at a special patron reception. At the reception the patrons were able to meet the artists and each other, as well as hear plans for the coming season. Brochures and ticket order forms were then sent immediately in the mail and most seats were reserved for the coming season by the end of May.
From our experience it is important to stress that music and performers be varied in musical style and approach in order to draw the widest audience. In our experience it would be completely unwise to begin, or book, a series with only organists, or singers, or pianists, etc., or to have a series of all classical music, or gospel, or rock.
It is not only important to have variation in performers, but variation in performance as well. For example, here are a few ideas in making great performances even better.
A Metropolitan Opera star sings a concert and dresses in costume for the operatic arias.
A well-known vocalist walks into the audience and talks with people
A young cellist plays both great classics and sacred music, giving explanations of the msuic throughout the program.
A patriotic concert performed by the church choir, organ, and local outstanding high school band, begins wit a color guard walking down the center aisle, and ends with fireworks on the outside lawn.
A famous european boys choir do an evening performance and a matinee for schools and other groups not able to come at night.
Many seemingly small details can make the difference in the success of a concert:
• Provide a printed program
• Give special attention to lighting, microphones, ushers, opening remarks, introductions, and closing and especially appropriate dress by those on stage
• Create a logo for the series and give each concert a title
• Help the senior minister understand the importance of their attendance and support, including regular church announcements as well as providing an opening prayer and a benediction at each concert
All of our concerts take place in the evening. However, on some Sundays, a half hour mini-concert is presented before the service begins. There are two reasons for this: to audition possible artists for future concerts, and/or to interest the congregation in a performer who will be featured on a future occasion. The mini-concerts help boost attendance at the evening concerts.
Perhaps the most important result of our efforts is that we found that 25% of nonmembers attending the concerts returned for services. Among these were many who joined the church, and through the experience, found a personal faith in Christ.
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