Community Concert Associations

Community Concert Associations. Autonomous concert associations organized by individual communities and affiliated with Community Concerts, Inc, a subsidiary of Columbia Artists Management Inc, New York.

Community Concert Associations

Community Concert Associations. Autonomous concert associations organized by individual communities and affiliated with Community Concerts, Inc, a subsidiary of Columbia Artists Management Inc, New York.

The concept of organized audiences began in the 1920s in the USA as the Civic Music Association, an attempt to bring the best possible performing artists to medium-sized cities and small towns without involving financial risk to the organizers. Previously, whereas larger cities usually could be assured of good audiences and thus no deficit when important musicians were engaged for performances, smaller communities frequently were faced with discouraging losses if they were to make up the difference between an artist's fee and ticket sales. Following the efforts of Harry P. Harrison and Dema Harshbarger in 1920, a young US musician, Ward French, developed the Organized Audience Movement in 1922, establishing a new plan which would avoid such losses and yet would encourage volunteers within the community to participate in the organizing of concerts. The plan was based on the principle of the local community gathering the audience first, through a one-week membership campaign, and then engaging such artists as the proceeds of that campaign would allow. In this way the community would hire only the artists it could afford, and at the same time everyone interested in the community's music could be involved in the membership campaign.

The idea was so successful that in 1928 it was taken up in New York by Columbia Concerts Corporation, which in 1948 became Columbia Artists Management Inc. A subsidiary company, Community Concerts, Inc, began working with local communities to help them form their own Community Concert Associations. Representatives from New York visited the communities, bringing information about available artists. In return, the associations were required to agree to book all their performers through Community Concerts, Inc, in New York. Once the local association had chosen the artists, the New York office arranged contracts, provided the local association with publicity material, and subsequently forwarded program information in printed form ready for distribution at the time of the performance. A Community Concert Association was free to choose any available artist it could afford, and the New York office made the arrangements. However, in some cases the New York office contracted artists or groups of artists to do Community Concert tours, from which local associations also could benefit, if geographically appropriate. Fees were assessed on the basis of an amount agreed to by the artist, plus a margin fee to Community Concerts, Inc. These fees were paid directly by the local association to Community Concerts, Inc, New York, who in turn paid the artist his or her share.

The success of Community Concert Associations in US cities and towns encouraged Canadian interest in similar ventures. The first Canadian city to become affiliated with Community Concerts, Inc, was Kitchener, Ont, which in 1930 organized its own Community Concert Association. Its success encouraged Hamilton to organize in 1931, and within the next few years cities and towns throughout Ontario, the Maritimes, and Quebec formed their own associations. In French Canada the associations were known and operated as Sociétés des concerts. By the 1940s the Community Concert movement had spread across Canada, and as a result many towns and smaller cities enjoyed performances by artists many of whom were, or later became, world-renowned: Pierrette Alarie, Licia Albanese, Marian Anderson, Rose Bampton, Canadian Brass Robert Casadesus, Richard Crooks, Nelson Eddy, Betty-Jean Hagen, Denis Harbour, Sheila Henig, Alexander Kipnis, John Knight, Arthur LeBlanc, Lois Marshall, Yehudi Menuhin, Ezio Pinza, Louis Quilico, Artur Rubinstein, Léopold Simoneau, Teresa Stratas, Gladys Swarthout, and Ronald Turini, among others. This came about in part because concerts were organized so that artists could avoid long journeys between engagements and could include small communities in their tours.

In 1955 Community Concerts of Canada, Inc, was incorporated as a subsidiary of Community Concerts, Inc, and was based in Ottawa with a Canadian board of directors. However, local Community Concert Associations have continued to conduct their business negotiations with the head office in New York. In the early days of the associations US performers were most often engaged, but as local organizers became more sophisticated musically and better acquainted with Canadian talent, increasing numbers of Canadian musicians were engaged to perform for Community Concert towns and cities in both Canada and the USA.

At the peak of activity, in the 1950s, Community Concert Associations in Canada numbered 75. However, in the 1970s the number declined, largely because many provincial arts councils had established their own touring divisions, and an increase in Canadian artists' managers had further stimulated communities to engage musicians directly.

By 1990 there were 15 remaining Community Concert Associations in Canada (in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec) still in operation, assisted by visiting representatives from Columbia Artists in New York. Although this reduction in numbers demonstrates a turning away from the service provided by the US-based agency, it would be a mistake to construe it as a deprecation of the pioneering contribution of the Community Concerts movement. Indeed, in breaking the ground for the wide diffusion of concerts in the small cities and towns of Canada the movement has made it possible for thousands of Canadians living outside the major centres to hear performances they might never have heard otherwise.


Further Reading

  • French, Ward. 'Canada's community towns,' CRMA, vol 4, Aug-Sep 1945

    Potvin, Gilles. 'Les sociétés des concerts aident la diffusion de la bonne musique,' Montreal Le Canada, 21 Jun 1950

    Smith, Cecil. 'The world of the organized audience,' Worlds of Music (Philadelphia, New York 1952)