Last season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s student-ticket program, which offers $15 discounted tickets for select performances, gave more than 16,000 students the opportunity to witness talent and hear music from around the globe. Since the program began in 2005, student-ticket purchases and over-all engagement have grown substantially, with a 62 percent increase over the last year alone. With good reason. Many teens and college students view an outing to downtown Chicago as a welcome respite from studying, as well as a prospect of spending time with peers. And music students view concerts as a valuable supplement to their classroom education.
“It’s one thing to work on orchestral repertoire in a class setting,” said Andrew Truskowski, a horn performance major at Northwestern University. “But being able to hear the CSO perform the excerpts I work on as a music student? That’s an extremely valuable experience — it’s like doing field work.”
In addition, the CSO’s student-ticket program allows students to sit in the best available seats for any given concert; an individual may be seated in the front row one week, and up in the sixth-floor gallery the next. For some, this is what makes the student tickets so valuable.
“I’ll never forget sitting right at the front of the hall when Truls Mørk performed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto last season,” said Drake Driscoll, a cello performance student from Northwestern. “It was such a special experience, and one that I would never have been able to have, if not for the CSO’s willingness to seat students in really great parts of the hall.”
Along with the student-ticket discounts, the CSO presents College Nights, designed especially for students, twice per season. College Nights include a pre-concert dinner, dessert, a question-and-answer session with CSO musicians and a Saturday-night orchestra performance for the cost of a standard student ticket.
College music majors are not the only ones taking advantage of the student-ticket program. Kira Newell, a neuroscience student at Northwestern University, said, “I really like being able to attend the College Night events because I don’t have to worry about splitting dinner costs or paying extra fees when going out on the town.”
For many College Night attendees, the evening’s highlight comes before the concert even begins, when they can engage with CSO musicians during the Q&A session. Past guests have included Alex Hanna, principal bass; Sylvia Kilcullen Kim, assistant principal second violin; Brant Taylor, cello; Youming Chen, viola, and Miles Maner, bassoon/contrabassoon. The behind-the-scenes access to CSO musicians is so special, students travel from across the country to attend. On average, more than 60 schools are represented at each College Night, with attendees arriving from as far away as the East Coast.
The demand is impressive. Last season, the CSO added an additional College Night, and also created a separate Family Weekend post-concert cupcake reception for families with younger children. Since 2015, all College Nights have sold out, with typically more than a third of the audience consisting of students.
“I get asked a lot about whether I think classical music is relevant to younger generations,” said Laura Sauer, CSO marketing associate and coordinator of College Night events. “This is the CSO’s response to that question — not only is classical music relevant to them, there is a demand for it.
“Students really enjoy having a night out and a fun experience — the concert is part of that, but we try to create something that goes beyond hearing great music,” Sauer said. “It’s our way of showing our younger audience members how much we appreciate them.”
Note: The CSO’s next College Night is Saturday, Nov. 4, featuring CSO bass Bradley Opland and oboe Lora Schaefer.