Recently, my school agreed to host a regional university wind ensemble for performance on a Sunday afternoon. We were asked to do this when another local high school had to back out of their commitment to host the performance. We did it as a favor to the other high school director who was an alum of that school and explained that Sunday afternoon performances, particular on beautiful spring days, were usually lightly attended and we had some difficulty generating audience for this type of performance. It also happened to be the day after my school's prom. Students from our school would be there in all likelihood. The ensemble leaders understood the concern but were interested in getting one last dry run before a trip to New York City the next day. So, we agreed to host the performance as a gesture to the university wind ensemble.
The school that backed out of hosting the performance agreed to provide all of the publicity, send students, and to contact local alumni about the performance. They were essentially in charge of generating an audience. Sadly, the day of the performance came and went and the audience was very thin. Actually, extraordinarily thin. The performing ensemble certainly understood and really weren't concerned about it at all.
Here's where "perception is reality" steps in. About an hour after the performance, I received a scathing email from a local resident who heard about the performance, came to the concert, and was enraged that so few people were there. Their ire was directed at me for not generating an audience for the performance. You see, I am the face of our Fine Arts Series and I am the one that sends out publicity emails regarding upcoming events. Earlier in the week, I had sent out a quick email to numerous area list-serves that letting people know that the performance would be on Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock. To make matters worse, there was a small typographical error in the email I had sent. The error was small (a typo in the information that I had received) and I don't believe that it would have kept anyone from attending the performance. This constituent's perception was that I hadn't done my job. I hadn't generated an audience. I had had not honored the group that was performing. I had not corrected the error in the email. And I had not advertised the concert appropriately . Here is the letter:
What an embarrassment!! The Symphony deserved a much larger audience!! When a member of my neighborhood association forwarded the March 23 email from you, we noticed the error immediately and sought clarification. Where might we have found a correction?? How was the news of the concert communicated to the public? Facebook page? Website? Who is responsible for communication of any and all events at your institution? Has anyone stepped up to take responsibility for this attendance fiasco, and please don't suggest you just printed what they sent!! As a taxpayer and lifelong resident of this community, my expectations are high but readily achievable if those in charge do their job!!
What a horrible way to end my Sunday evening. Clearly, this constituent didn't have all the facts. But, it didn't matter. Their perception was their reality. Obviously, we responded to the letter and gave them some more of the facts, but I believe the damage was done. Their perception of our institution and our programs had been , more than likely, altered irreparably.
Which brings me to the second part of my title: "no good deed goes unpunished." Clearly, we were looking to help out this university wind ensemble. We were also looking to help out this local area band director. In the end, we have probably been better off saying no. But, that is not how I want to operate. I always want to operate in a mode of saying yes. In this instance, it didn't pay off for at least one audience member. But, I do believe that the university wind ensemble was thrilled to have that opportunity. They worked for about an hour with a well-known composer who lives in our area and had a final dry run before they headed off to New York City for more performances. Saying yes, in the end, was the right thing to do.
Of course, we will continue saying yes and trying to be an optimistic force in the arts and music in our area. All that being said, it really stings to receive an email like the one I received. I wish that people would take the time to get all the facts before unleashing their sometimes ignorant rants.
As for those of us in the arts at my institution, we will continue to say yes.