As a musician, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of smiling out into a full house, standing and clapping, after a performance. Throughout the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s 10-day Brazil tour, we had the joy of sharing our love and excitement for music with audiences in incredible venues such as Sala São Paulo and Igreja de Candelária. After concerts, many attendees would stick around, some in the hopes of taking pictures with us; others to get autographs; most just to talk to us and say “Congratulations” and “Thank you.”
This incredible experience was a stark contrast to the YSO’s experiences at home.
Back in our beloved Woolsey Hall, we experience financially rocky times due to the huge lack of enthusiasm for most of our concerts. After taking into account our numerous costs — rental, recording and custodial expenses, just to name a few — we need to sell about 800 out of the approximately 2,600 seats of the Hall in order to break even. And for us, meeting this low number is a constant challenge.
The only YSO performance that riles up the campus in any way comparable to those in Brazil is the annual Halloween Show. As everyone knows by now, we sold tickets online for the first time two weeks ago — and all available Woolsey seats were claimed seven minutes into the sale. The event was so popular that many friend groups were forced to sit in different sections, or did not get tickets at all.
With this very surprising demand came controversy. A noticeable number of students began complaining about the amount of money that the YSO seemed to be raking in from this single production. The number of morally dubious students who have chosen to scalp tickets has increased. A prank email about void tickets went out setting some hopes high, making others absolutely terrified and sending YSO members scrambling to fix a problem we never thought we’d have to face. All in all, a general air of discontent about ticket distribution settled throughout campus.
While it seems like we might make a sizable profit off our Halloween show, we only net about $17,000 from the Halloween Show. Our costs are extremely high, since we pay extra to hire security personnel for the undoubtedly rowdy crowd and custodians to work the special Halloween hour. In the end, our profit of $17,000 is distributed throughout the year to break even on our other concerts. From a pragmatic standpoint, as a relatively poor student organization, the YSO has used the funds from the Halloween Show for the past 37 years to balance its budget.
As our finances suggest, the Yale community shows a general apathy for the arts.
Halloween Show aside, the YSO sells its tickets at a very low price — $3 — to make our classical music performances as accessible to as many as possible. But we do not get anything close to a full house. As a member of the YSO and a producer of this year’s show, I wish students would care about the YSO beyond the Halloween revelries.
The apathy can also be seen in attendee behavior at the Halloween Show. Starting with last year’s concert, disorderly conduct from show attendees have forced us to forgo selling seats with partial views — making the Show even more inaccessible to students. This conduct demonstrates that for many attendees, the Halloween Show is not centered on the performance or the music. To them, it is a social venue, a gathering place to see friends in costumes. The art is secondary.
When it comes to the Halloween Show, students should care more about how the performance exemplifies the true magic of the arts. Art allows people to feel emotions vicariously. The Halloween Show allows attendees to experience the emotions of the characters in the silent film through music, from the ominous Imperial March to the overwhelmingly triumphant finale of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. However, since the Halloween Show is only rehearsed three times beforehand, the quality of its music is far from what the YSO typically offers. Those who are moved by the Halloween Show’s music will be even more changed by the YSO’s performance in other concerts.
When you come to Woolsey this Thursday night, remember that the performance is bigger than the event. The Halloween Show will be more enjoyable if you give the art on stage — and the Mahler or Handel played — the respect and appreciation it deserves.
Joan Rhee is a sophomore in Davenport College and the producer for the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s Halloween Show. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.