The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Can UW-Madison concert managers please do a better job of being audience-friendly? | February 12, 2015

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Charlene Adzima and harpsichordists Christian Collins and Leo Van Asten playing music by George Frideric Handel, Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Pachelbel, Adzima and Collins.


By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another catch-up posting after an extremely busy week of concerts and previews.

A very large crowd turned out for the Jan. 30 “Schubertiade” (below) – the second annual one at the UW-Madison School of Music. And they were not disappointed with the music, all by Schubert and all wonderful.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

It proved to be simply one of the best and most enjoyable concerts of the season.

However, there was something to leave one disappointed.

That is the reception that a lot of audience members received when they arrived at Mills Hall.

It was a very cold and snowy night, with some parking problems due to the weather and a hockey game. So understandably, many people left home early because of traffic and arrived at the hall early.

But they were left standing in the hallway, milling around as the doors opened and let in cold air.

“It’s like they’re cattle,” someone remarked.

And indeed it was. Just look at the photo below.

Crowd at 2015 Schubertiade

Now, the school advertises that the doors to the hall will be open one-half hour before concert time.

But that did NOT happen.

This time the excuse we were told was that the performers were still practicing up until maybe 15 minutes or so before the doors opened. Plus, The Ear is told, there were some unexpected problems with setting up the stage and opening the door.

Mistakes and accidents happen. Probably the wait was not intentional.

But this wasn’t the only time The Ear has experienced this kind of inconvenience. You can also see the literal crush of waiting people (below) in the vestibule at the last UW-Madison Choral Prism holiday concert at Luther Memorial Church.

Crowd at 2015 Prism concert Luther Memorial

I have also seen crowds standing in a snaking line at popular events like the UW Choral Union as they wait – and listen to the choral performers warming up.

That is just unacceptable.

Remember that, by and large, the audience for classical music is older. That means they have less strength. They may be taking medications. They often have balance problems. They are more sensitive to the cold. They may have had hip and knee replacements, so that standing in the hallway can be awkward and even painful.

Plus, there are damn few places to sit besides three or four benches.

So here is what The Ear proposes in the way of setting up some ground rules to ease the logistics and increase the audience’s comfort.

1) All performers must vacate the stage in Mills Hall 40 minutes before curtain time. That gives the performers 10 minutes to get out and the staff 10 minutes to get doors open and the hall prepared. No excuses and no procrastination. And maybe, we can hope, no audience frustration.

2) Put more benches or portable chairs in the foyer, especially in winter and during extremely cold or inclement weather.

3) Do what you promise to do and open the doors at least one-half hour before the concert.

4) Maybe open up a waiting classroom or area, away from drafts and with more places to sit while waiting to get into the hall.

5) Have another room available for performers who have to practice close to concert time.

What do you think of the problem?

And what solution would you like to see or have to suggest?

The Ear wants to hear.




  1. We ended up with a lot of Telemann because the bassoonists rejected the harder music I brought along. We looked in the Wednesday rehearsal at the Six Quatuors ou trios and chose one. It meets Wed. at 8. Could Satoko do that one? That would spare Ben a bit. I’m working with him otherwise on the Telemann Sing- Spiel und Generalbassübungen with Jerod, which gives us the opportunity to look at the continuo instruction that Telemann provides for each piece, and another very rustic Telemann trio that is good for the violinist to learn on. I’m going to tell him I’ll work with him individually. He’s a quick study. Unfortunately, Yom Kippur is pretty disruptive this week, as it starts tomorrow and finishes Wed. night. Jeanne (we’re going to meet Wed. anyway)

    Comment by Jeanne Swack — October 10, 2016 @ 11:45 pm

  2. get over it! I am aged, decrepit and my friends and I
    do not expect perfection in the world. The music is
    great enough!

    Comment by fholtzman — February 12, 2015 @ 8:09 pm

    • One of the few sensible comments here. Wisconsin in early February is never hospitable and likely never will be because of the weather. Rather than dumping on the UW Music School, I think they should be applauded. And I suspect with the budget cuts, and less staffing, such “problems” will only grow. Why not applaud the wonderful music and the whole idea of a night of Schubert’s music (he also lived in some tough times).

      Comment by fflambeau — February 12, 2015 @ 8:39 pm

  3. Excellent suggestions!

    Comment by Betty Risteen Hasselkus — February 12, 2015 @ 1:51 pm

  4. Thanks, Jake, for noticing this and directing attention to the issue. It’s been a long-simmering problem, nice to give it some important visibility. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Kathy — February 12, 2015 @ 12:53 pm

  5. I agree with Mikko–we often need a sound check and there may be no other time, though some of the las minute rehearsing I’ve been involved in I think could have been avoided. Finding a seat in the hall when it fills up is often awkward, and I (as a balance-challenged person) find going down the stairs in the hall to be challeging in itself. The vestibule could use some more seating. Also odd and disturbing is the fact that the lights are often off at the Park St. entrance (and sometimes even at the main entrance). It looks like we are closed, and it looks less safe. I’m not sure why that happens. And older people are often waiting there for rides. I don’t know what to do about parking–I have handicapped parking and I often have to park across the street. The ice around the entrance tends to be cleared badly. I took a nasty fall there a few years ago. And the handicapped spots at the Humanities Bldg. are sometimes taken up by people “waiting for someone” (I ask them to move). Someone parked there for a year with a homemade (and not convincing) tag until I called the campus police.

    Comment by Jeanne Swack — February 12, 2015 @ 11:25 am

  6. It seems like the easiest plan would be to simply open the doors 30 minutes early whether or not the performers are ready. Over time this would have the effect of shaming us sufficiently to get our acts together and be ready 30 minutes prior. If performers know we can hold the doors later than 30 minutes then we will unfortunately keep pushing the envelope. If, however, we’ve finished our preparation a few times in front of audiences streaming in, then I would wager we’d figure out a way to be ready.

    At the end of the day I don’t think it’s a big deal if the early bird audience sees the tail end of a rehearsal. It’s not optimal, but I’d rather that than people not coming for fear of being made to stand too long in the cold.

    Comment by Jim Doing — February 12, 2015 @ 9:53 am

    • Well said, Jim. This happens at Edgewood all the time! No one seems to mind but sometimes it does feel a little like someone walking in when you’re not quite dressed yet.

      Comment by Kathy O — February 12, 2015 @ 11:00 am

  7. Excellent suggestions. It is a management failure of those running the music events in scheduling time for performers to access the stage. It is called respect for the audience and, by the way, respect for current and future donors.

    Comment by Lynn — February 12, 2015 @ 9:47 am

  8. Glad The Ear has raised this issue for the SOM to address. Folding chairs, assuming no prob with Fire Codes, a nearby classroom opened, more attention to parking, with the option of setting aside x number at a nearby parking space.
    One other point….introductions. Shouldn’t there be someone from the School to welcome concert goers as the performance begins. I attended a recent concert and the performer came on stage with no departmental announcement. A perfect outreach opportunity lost.

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — February 12, 2015 @ 9:43 am

  9. If the organizers can’t find a solution, stop having the concerts. I love the music, but it’s too inconvenient especially for older people like myself and my spouse.

    Comment by cheemavignettes — February 12, 2015 @ 8:49 am

    • Wow! You need to stay home then. This is simply whining.

      Comment by fflambeau — February 12, 2015 @ 8:34 pm

  10. I agree with Mikko – as someone who has often been on the other side of that door. I imagine that full-group rehearsal for the Schubertiade was especially challenging – with performers coming from Chicago and elsewhere to participate it was likely hard to get everyone together until right before the concert. That said, if the UWSOM says that doors will be open 30 minutes ahead of the concert, then performers should plan accordingly to make that possible. If that’s unrealistic, then maybe the policy should be reconsidered.

    I have long thought that reserved seating for events that are heavily attended in Mills Hall might be a wise move. People arrive very early for Choral Union and other popular events (back in the day, there were packed houses for most of the ensemble concerts at UW) in order to get a good seat in the hall – hence the clogged lobby and inward rush when the doors open. If specific seats were reserved ahead, I don’t think there would be such a crush. Obviously you can’t do that at Luther Memorial, but if reserved seating can be arranged in Music Hall, surely it could be done for Mills?

    I’d like to commend the SOM staff and students for handling the Schubertiade throng with grace – it was a challenging situation.

    Now, let’s talk about PARKING.

    Comment by Kathy O — February 12, 2015 @ 8:38 am

  11. Jacob, you’re dead right about this issue. I’ve sat on those few benches &/or stood in the crowded lines there for concerts in Mills & the smaller recital hall many times. Despite my age–74–I’ve never minded that even during freezing winter periods, but I think the whole situation is apparently the result of less than good planning.

    Comment by buppanasu — February 12, 2015 @ 8:36 am

  12. I understand the frustration. However, I’m also frequently on the other side of the door, and I’m afraid the solutions, if there are some to be found, will have to happen in the lobby. I am speaking here as both a performer and a former stage manager for the UW School of Music.

    The last moments in the hall are crucial for setting balances, fixing traffic patterns, and getting the physical space set up to welcome in an audience. In many cases, performers have had little or no rehearsal time in the concert hall, and need to do sound checks. In others, the hall was in use until shortly before the concert, and the stage is not physically set up yet (or this setup delays the sound check). While it would be wonderful to bring the audience in 30 minutes before curtain, frequently this is simply not possible.

    On the subject of benches in the lobby or another such outside solution, I would suggest you contact Kathy Esposito or Hinano Ishii at the School of Music. I assume you would not have posted this if such overtures had not already been made and gone unresolved, though.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — February 12, 2015 @ 1:23 am

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