How to promote an organ recital based on our experience volunteering at Our Lady of Refuge Church in the Brooklyn Diocese.
This is a series of articles on a systematic approach to promoting an organ recital or a series of organ recitals with the goal of building a large audience base.
Background on the experience that led to this series of articles how to promote an organ recital.
These are based on the experiences of organizing, promoting and running an organ recital series at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in the Brooklyn Diocese. As a bit of background, Our Lady of Refuge is a parish in the middle of the Diocese of Brooklyn. The church has no prior musical reputation, no trained organist, no real music program other than what is needed for Mass. There is a small office staff and the church is far from the cultural centers of Manhattan.
In 2006 JAV Recordings volunteered their time and resources to raise the funds to restore Our Lady of Refuge’s almost un-playable Kilgen Opus 5163; since the parish could not afford to pay for the restoration. JAV Recordings provided a platform for the pastor at that time, Fr. Michael Perry , to request funds from organists from around the world. He promised the donors if they gave funds to the restoration that the organ would be: used, shared with the community and cared for.
After years of great effort the pipe organ at Our Lady of Refuge was delivered back to the church in June of 2013 by A.R. Schopp’s Sons and Quimby Pipe Organs. It was reinstalled over three months by a team from Quimby Pipe Organs led by Eric Johnson. The end result was a beautifully restored symphonic organ designed by Charles Courboin and built by Kilgen in 1933. The financial sacrifices and donations from over 1000 people from around the world made the organ restoration possible. Most amazing is almost none of these donors had ever been to Brooklyn. Most said they felt like they were partners in doing a great good.
How to celebrate the restoration of the pipe organ at Our Lady of Refuge?
Well, before the restoration was completed or the organ delivered back to Brooklyn focus shifted to re-dedicating the instrument. Next was to create an organ recital series to celebrate the instrument’s renewed musical potential. This was the start of keeping the parish’s promise to the donors which was to : use, share and care for the restored pipe organ. JAV Recordings volunteered to organize, manage and help fund the dedicatory recital and six additional organ recitals. These recitals took place between October 2013 to May 2015. Each performance was video recorded so they could be shared on youtube with all of the people from around the world whose donations made the restoration possible.
A fantastic night for the Brooklyn Diocese: Dedicatory Recital played by Olivier Latry
On October 18, 2013 Olivier Latry played the dedicatory recital after Bishop Nicholas Anthony Di Marzio (The Seventh Bishop of the Brooklyn Diocese) blessed the organ. Olivier Latry is the organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He is one of the greats of the great organists of our time. This organ recital was attended by over 750 paying people. Some people even flew in from Europe and many came from all over the country. They believed in the parish. Many contributed many times over the years and wanted to be part of this pipe organ’s rebirth. None would miss it for the world. One man from St. Louis flew in, he introduced himself to Joe Vitacco an hour before the recital. This gentlemen had donated many times to the restoration. He also had pancreatic cancer, he told Joe Vitacco that nothing would prevent him from missing Olivier Latry’s rededication of the organ at Our Lady of Refuge. Joe took him up to the organ chambers to show him how beautifully everything was restored; tears of joy rolled down his face, he said how happy he was that this organ was to be saved unlike the tons of churches that were closing where he lived and the organs were being sent to the dump. That is just one story of many.
Six Recitals in the Dedicatory Series
The first organ recital in the series was played by organist Johann Vexo (Organist of Nancy Cathedral, France). His recital was attended by 82 people. This is a pretty good number of people attending and organ recital when compared to recitals at other small churches. What made this number more remarkable is only six or nine Brooklyn organists attended and a handful of people from the parish – but the bulk of the people were just from the neighborhood. The last recital, played by Daniel Roth, was attended by 194 people . The best attended organ recital was a silent film “The Phantom of the Opera”. Todd Wilson accompanied the film and about 350 people paid to attend. The other 3 organ recitals averaged about 120 people per recital included: Craig Cramer (Professor of Music, University of Notre Dame), Thierry Escaich, Loreto Aramendi. Around 50% of the ticket sales occurred online in advance of the organ recitals. Compared to other organ recitals in out of the way venues, these are much better then average results.
Some of the lessons learned by running these recitals are:
- There is a much greater interest in the pipe organ in the general public then most organist acknowledge.
- Social media used strategically and methodically over time can help grow your audience.
- Local small newspapers can be an outstanding partner.
- Sell tickets in advance and charging money makes people value what they receive and produces commitment.
- Most important is preparation, consistency and quality of media. Without repeating the same image over and over.
To be covered in a series of articles on promoting an organ recital :
- writing a detail plan of the concept for your concert
- effective frequency of an advertisement
- working out a theme that non-organists can understand with the recitalist
- what is it going to cost
- writing the press release.
- Leveraging your church’s website, online ticket sales
- using social media to get the word out to non-organist
- working with the local media
- bulk mailings
- the night of the recital and building a sense of community around the recitals.