Hugh Mather


St Mary's Perivale Questionnaire Survey October 2015

Summary of results

This survey was undertaken to elicit the views of a sample of our audience on our concerts, and to obtain their suggestions on how we might improve them. We received 84 questionnaire replies. Many people had problems in replying electronically which may have adversely affected the response rate. Our average audience is currently about 55, so the respondents may reflect the views of a significant proportion of them. Most replies were received by email, but about 15 were hand-written. 

1. What do you like about our concerts ?

Forty four referred to the high standard of musicians and performance on offer, 25 to the choice and variety of music, and 24 to the beautiful venue. Twenty three mentioned the warm, friendly welcome and sociable atmosphere. Eighteen mentioned the intimacy of the venue, with the close proximity of the audience to the musicians, and 17 that it was local, with easy access. Fourteen simply stated that they like ‘everything' ! Twelve mentioned the informality of our concerts. Other factors mentioned were the cakes, tea and drinks (6), the good acoustics (5), the inexpensiveness of the concerts (5), the absence of any need to book in advance (3) the easy parking (3) and the format of ‘double concerts', with different musicians in each half (1).

2. What do you NOT like about our concerts ?

Thirty six could think of ‘nothing' to mention, and 9 commented that the only negative factor was the clash with their other activities. Other factors were mentioned by small numbers of respondents, notably were being slightly cold on occasions (4) and dislike of some of the music (particularly 20th century repertoire) (4). Conversely, 3 respondents complained about a perceived undue emphasis on 19th century music, and 2 considered that we had too many piano recitals. Other points, each raised by a single respondent, included the failure of musicians to introduce their pieces, the failure of musicians to use a microphone when doing so, the failure to dim the audience lights during a performance, the limited seating, the fear of not gaining admittance to a concert, the prevention of late-comers from entering the church during a performance, the intervals sometimes being overlong, the poor public transport service, the occasional last-minute changes in programme, the difficulty in obtaining a front-row seat however early people attend, and the preference for a 7 pm start in winter.

3. How can we improve ?

Choice of musicians ….
(more or less solo piano / piano trios / string quartets / wind / vocal etc ??)

Twenty respondents said that the choice of musicians was ‘fine' or ‘OK' etc. Eighteen requested more vocal items, 12 more string quartets, and 10 more wind items. Seven wanted more piano solo items, but six wanted less of these. Other suggestions from smaller numbers of respondents included more trios (2), guitarists (2), brass (2) and less string quartets (2), and individual respondents requested more solo cello and piano duet items, and less vocal, less wind and fewer piano trios.

Choice of music ….
(more or less modern / early music / any particular composers ??)

This provoked a wide range of responses. Thirteen indicated that they were happy with the current balance and range of music on offer. Twelve wanted us to concentrate on well-known composers and works, and ten requested fewer ‘modern' (ie 20th century) works. Conversely, ten requested more ‘modern' works, and 12 wanted more baroque repertoire. Eight emphasized that a wide range of repertoire was important. Other suggestions made by a few respondents included more Mozart and Haydn (3), avoiding the over-familiar (2), South American music (2), no or less early music (2), occasional pop/light classical/operetta repertoire (2), more English music (1) and guitar music (1). Two emphasized the importance of more information about the works being performed.

Practical organisation of concerts ….
(Preference for Weds / Sat evenings / Sunday afternoons / frequency ) (Seating ? / temperature ?)

Eighteen were happy with the current arrangement of Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts. Fourteen preferred Sunday afternoons, and ten Wednesday evenings. Conversely, Wednesday evenings were inconvenient for 6 people, and four inquired whether we might hold concerts on other weekday evenings. Two asked for an earlier start time to the concert. Saturday evenings were suggested by four people, but 3 thought they should be avoided because of competition from other events. Single respondents commented that we had too many concerts, and that we might try weekday lunchtimes or afternoons. Respondents liked the chairs, with no adverse comments. Four commented that the church could be rather cold, but 9 stated that the temperature was now satisfactory, and two considered that it was occasionally too hot. One referred to the problems inherent in having only one toilet, and another emphasized the importance of musicians introducing their pieces.

Social aspects of concerts ….
(Socializing at the end of concerts ? What else ?)

Twenty eight respondents thought that the social arrangements at our concerts were very good, friendly and enjoyable, with seven specifically praising the cakes and three the wine and crisps. Thirteen stated that they were relatively uninterested in ‘socializing', and preferred to travel home immediately after the concert. Two commented that the space for socializing was rather limited, and single respondents stated that they preferred red wine, that ‘good quality wine' would help, that they would prefer to have a drink in the interval, that it was difficult to break into people's conversations, and that some members of the audience ‘jostled strangers'. One suggested an annual social evening event for the audience. 

4. WHAT ELSE influences your decision to attend a concert ?
( Cold / wet weather ? Football on the telly !? Traffic ? Transport problems ? Need of a lift home ?)

Twenty eight respondents indicated that they were most influenced by their other commitments, leading busy lives with family commitments etc. Fifteen mentioned the deterrent effect of cold and/or wet weather. Thirteen indicated that an important factor was the music being performed, and five said that the musicians performing was also important. Six mentioned traffic problems, particularly on the A40, three referred to the problem of inadequate public transport and the need for a lift home, and three said that they were deterred because they lived a considerable distance from the church. Two respondents thought that we had too many concerts. Other factors mentioned by individual respondents included parking problems, lack of money to give to the retiring collection, and clash with favourite television programmes

5. PUBLICITY : Any thoughts on how can we raise our profile ?
(Weekly emails / leaflets / website / social media / other ?)

Eight stated that the weekly emails were ‘good' or ‘important', and the emails elicited no adverse comment except one about the use of Comic Sans MS font – since modified. Eight thought that we should have a more vigorous social media presence, particularly to reach out to a younger audience, with the use of Facebook and/or Twitter. Five suggested that we should advertise in the Ealing Gazette. Five thought the leaflets were important. Other suggestions included a specific drive at publicity in the Chiswick area (3), use of local on-line newsletters (2) and encouraging the audience to disseminate information by word of mouth (2). Single respondents also referred to the use of Bachtrack, to, posters in the Lane, via U3A meetings, via schools and via ‘plugs' on the radio. One respondent questioned whether we needed any further publicity since many concerts were well-attended. Another advocated more use of car-stickers, but said that they should indicate that St Mary's is primarily a music venue rather than a functioning church.

6. If you could plan your perfect ‘dream concert ', what would it comprise?

This question was poorly drafted, in that most respondents gave their perfect ‘dream' concert choices regardless of venue, so these included orchestral music, organ music and even the Wagner ‘Ring' cycle ! In retrospect, we should have specified that it applied to a ‘dream' concert at St Mary's Perivale.

7. Any other comments or suggestions not covered by the above?

There were many warm and appreciative messages of support for the concerts. Various respondents raised a variety of interesting points, although there was no single dominating issue. Three warned against too much publicity, resulting in an overfull church, and one related how he had been unable to gain admittance after a long journey, and had not returned since. Three stressed how important it was for musicians to introduce their pieces to the audience. Two respondents noted the absence of young people, and suggested we contact local schools and music teachers, and two people thought that the use of Facebook and Twitter might help to reach a younger population. Single respondents raised numerous other issues. One wondered about whether we had ‘succession planning' in place. In terms of other events, separate individuals suggested a ‘novelty jazz / 30s and 40s' evening, an evening of Japanese and Chinese music, lecture-recitals by musicians, interviews of celebrated musicians, high-profile celebrity recitals and a social event for supporters or Sponsors and Patrons . Other respondents suggested that we should always print the dates of composers in our concert programmes, and that we should include details of the music as well as musicians in the summary of concerts at the top of the weekly email, and that I should avoid use of the Comic Sans MS Font in these emails. One commentator remarked that the main problem was the retention of our audience, noting the high turnover of audience members. Another was irritated by my effusive remarks about musicians at forthcoming events, made before and after concerts. Other points included the provision of black tea as well as tea with milk on Sunday afternoons, and whether cake might become available on Wednesday evenings. One was worried by the steps into the church, and whether these could be made safer. A respondent noted that similar problems with variable audience numbers were experienced by many music clubs and other similar organisations.

Discussion :

This small, qualitative questionnaire survey shows an overwhelmingly positive response to the concerts, particularly re the high standard of performance, as well as the choice of music and the beautiful venue. It was pleasing to see so many positive remarks about the warm, friendly ambience and the informality, as well as the intimacy and closeness of the venue. When asked about negative aspects, most could think of nothing, except (for some) inevitable clashes with other commitments. Four respondents identified occasional problems with cold weather, although these were much improved, and another 4 disliked some of the musical items, particularly 20th century repertoire. Other points raised by single individuals are listed above.

Questions re the choice of musicians revealed a clear consensus for more vocal items, as well as more music involving wind instruments and string quartets. Enquiry re the choice of music revealed a wide range of views, with a majority wanting to stick to familiar, largely 19th century repertoire, but a substantial minority wanting more 20th century and baroque repertoire. The balance of opposing views suggests that the current balance is probably about right ! The social component at the end of our concerts was obviously popular with most of the audience. Most liked the current mix of Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, although some requested weekday concerts on other evenings and at an earlier time. When asked about what influenced their attendance at concerts, the most frequent response was other commitments in busy lives, and adverse weather was also important. The choice of music and of musicians was a third important factor which is obviously more amenable to change than the first two. When asked about publicity, respondents gave a favourable response to the weekly emails, and suggested many additional approaches, notably the use of social media, hopefully to increase the number of young people attending the concerts. The Text Messaging Service was found to be helpful by the few respondents who had tried it, and the website was frequently used and popular. Other points which emerged from this survey were the need for more musicians to introduce their works, and some minor practical measures, such as a more liberal approach to admitting late-comers.

In summary, this small study has shown that the concerts are very popular with most of our respondents, with remarkably few specific criticisms, except that more vocal, wind and string quartet music would be welcome, as would more information about the music being played. Thereafter, it was necessary to ensure that the choice of music and musicians, and the overall concert experience, was sufficient to attract and retain a good audience, regardless of the weather or their other commitments. We will redouble our efforts to achieve this.

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