‘Zonal Attachment’ for Musicians

30th November 2020 | Concerts, Daily Life, Musings, Travel | 3 comments

I was half-listening to the radio this morning when they were talking about fishing rights. The concept of ‘zonal attachment’ was being explained. I learned that this was a new and scientific way of approaching the issue of fishing rights. Fish move around; from year to year their favourite locations may change. Therefore, instead of assuming that fish are going to be where they have always been, it makes more sense to do annual surveys of where they actually are, and divide up access accordingly.

I started wondering if this concept could be useful in the music world. It often seems as if we go to play concerts in places where there used to be good audiences, taking no account of the fact that things may have changed. Conversely, we don’t go and play in places where it might be the perfect moment to visit because, for example, they’ve been undertaking a brilliant regional programme of music education.

I still remember with pain an occasion some years ago when I drove for several hours through driving rain to do a solo recital for a music society. The correspondence leading up to the concert had been entirely normal. I got there and did my on-stage rehearsal. Shortly before the concert, the organiser popped her head around the dressing-room door and said to me in a subdued tone, ‘I just wanted to say: don’t be surprised if we don’t get much of an audience tonight. Our membership has declined steeply in the past few years, I’m afraid.’

‘How many people do you expect we might get?’ I asked with sinking heart. ‘Maybe forty?’ she replied.

And so it was. There were around 40 people, spread out in ones and twos throughout the building as if they didn’t know one another (and this was long before the age of social distancing). Now, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy playing to them. But had a ‘zonal attachment’ survey indicated that there were few classical music-lovers swimming around in that area that year, I might have at least waited until I had several concerts around there, to make more sense of the journey.

Of course, if a zonal attachment survey showed that there were huge numbers of music-lovers all clustered in the same place, there would have to be some sort of quota system allocating musicians the right to play to them during the season. But that might work rather well. At least it would guarantee that all sorts of musicians would have their turn on the platform.


  1. Mary Cohen

    Finding a market is not as easy as it sounds for individual musicians/groups, so perhaps this is the area that needs some bright spark to set up in. The education departments of orchestras/ensembles often finish a project with a concert – simultaneously creating a potential audience for other events. But what individuals and small groups need is something more tailored.

  2. James

    Although, on the other hand, who can say how you may have moved those forty audience members? It seems likely that most of them still remember the evening, I certainly recall the thrill of hearing you play at Wigmore Hall back in the early 2000s. The hall was almost full and I felt that night that I finally understood chamber music, and it has been a marvelous part of my life ever since.
    In his 3 volume bio, Alan Walker talks extensively of Franz Liszt’s tours throughout Europe when he was still a young man. I recall that Liszt arrived by coach in a snowy Exeter, only to play for some 6 or 7 people… yet I’d give my back teeth to have been there!

    • Susan Tomes

      James, thank you, what a lovely comment.

      And I too would have loved to be present when the young Liszt played to six or seven people in Exeter!


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