In class last week I had mentioned the ensemble that I am currently a part of, International Chamber Artists, based in Chicago. When we first started the ensemble the tsunami had just hit in Asia and Hurricane Katrina had just devasted the coast. Outreach and helping others was on everyone's brain. We thought how insignificant our work was compared to what was happening in these regions and it made us analyse how we could make our work as musicians important and relavent to audiences. In addition to the aural program notes I talked about, we decided to make our ticket prices a suggested donation. We did this for a couple different reasons - first no one will be turned away because they are not comfortable paying for a ticket when they have no idea what the music is like, and secondly, we choose to identify a music organization to support each year with a percentage of the ticket donations. We have been working with a music school in inner-city Chicago that is mainly scholarship based to allow kids from less fortunate families to take lessons. For each concert 1 or 2 students from the school is choosen to perform a short work at the concert and they get special time with one of the musicians of the ensemble to prepare.
This has been wildly successful. The audience visually sees how their act of going to a concert is supporting great work for kids. In all the start-up music ensembles I've been a part of I've never seen such successful ticket sales from start. They are able to make a real contribution to the school while supporting the concerts.