A Survey for New Jersey Classical Guitar Societies
by Gary Lee
Need for a survey
Who are the people that attend the Classical Guitar Society of Warren County and the New Jersey Classical Guitar Society? What do they value and do they participate in the larger classical guitar community? In September 2018, I conducted a survey on behalf of the societies to better understand why people attend our meetings and whether they attend events offered by larger societies and concert presenters in New York City and Philadelphia. Having this information will make it possible to serve our members better.
Background on guitar societies in New Jersey
Although the New Jersey Classical Guitar (NJCGS) has been existence for 30 years, New Jersey has never had a classical guitar society that actively presents concerts, festivals or educational programs. Instead, “societies”—more accurately described as players circles held in private homes or churches—have formed from time to time. Some of their participants attend concerts and activities presented in nearby New York and Philadelphia by organizations such as the New York City Classical Guitar Society, the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society, the 92nd St. Y, and the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes. In the early- to mid-2010’s, New Jersey and the Westchester, NY area had four active classical guitar societies: the NJCGS, the Classical Guitar Society of Warren County (CGSWC), the Maplewood Classical Guitar Society, and the Westchester Classical Guitar Society. Common to all these groups is/was the absence of incorporation, dues, operating budgets, officers or concerts. Today, only the NJCGS and CGSWC are active.
An anonymous survey was sent through the mailing lists of the four societies listed above. Combined, the number of unique email addresses was approximately 200. 37 individuals provided responses, of which perhaps 25 participated in at least one of the societies. Obviously, there are many people who asked to be on the distribution lists, but were never able or intended to participate.
The questions and complete results are here:
What the survey revealed
Demographics. Two-thirds or more of the respondents are 60 years or older amateur players that have at least 15 years of experience playing classical guitar. Another third are professional teachers/performers who have attended music school. Anecdotally, professionals are rare at meetings, so presumably many are interested in being on the mailing list, but do not participate.
The majority of respondents (58%) live in Northern New Jersey and a smaller amount (14%) in the Princeton area. 25% presumably live outside of New Jersey/New York City/Philadelphia region, so unfortunately, they skew some of the results.
Attendance. 75% attended at least one meeting of the NJCGS or CGSWC within the last 2 years. While half of the respondents still attend meetings, those who stopped cite lack of time and distance to meetings.
What’s important to members? Of highest importance is performing for and listening to others. Somewhat important is socializing.
What activities should be added? 61% said they would like the opportunity to play in an ensemble, followed by 45% who would like the opportunity to perform in a more formal setting such as a concert. 29% said they are happy how it is.
Concert and festival attendance in the region. Only half of the respondents attended at least 1 concert in the last 2 years produced by one of the major concert presenters in the region. ¼ to ½ (but more likely ¼) attended at least 1 festival in the last 5 years.
Attendance at NYC or PHL Classical Guitar Society meetings. Only 24% of respondents attended at least one meeting of the New York City or Philadelphia Classical Guitar Societies within the last 2 years.
Take home messages
Societies like the NJCGS and CGSWC provide a much-needed opportunity for amateur enthusiasts to perform for others in a welcoming, low-stakes environment. Members socialize, learn and connect with others who share a similar interest. Attendance by some members is inconsistent due to lack of time or stage of life; many come and go. In contrast, there are others who form a core who attend on a consistent basis.
One type of activity that the NJCGS should consider fostering is ensemble playing among its members. This could happen by encouraging the formation of duos or small ensembles outside of meetings, or through the formal distribution of parts to willing players. Both could culminate in performances at meetings.
New Jersey is somewhat unique in that its guitar lovers must go out of state to hear world-class players in concert. Fortunately for many in the northeast and Princeton areas (where the majority of members live), some of the top venues in NYC and Philadelphia are within 60-90 minutes. Despite this proximity and the fact that two-thirds of respondents said that they are willing to drive at least 60 minutes to attend a guitar-related event, it is somewhat surprising that more do not take part. These findings suggest that wanting to play should not be equated with wanting to hear concerts. In this sense, informal societies fulfill a unique role that larger, formal societies cannot.