Haffner’s idea for large-print programs strike a chord with concertgoers

February 16, 2012

The Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) has long enjoyed reputation as one of the nation’s top chamber orchestras. With 55 of the world’s most respected musicians, the N.Y.-based OSL has premiered more than 100 orchestral and chamber works by major composers, released over 70 recordings, and won four Grammy Awards.  The orchestra regularly collaborates with artists ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to Elton John.

One of the orchestra’s unexpected hits of the current season has been not a concerto or a new recording but large-print programs – which will now be provided by the OSL to all concert attendees, beginning with this year’s St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble performances at New York’s Brooklyn Museum and The Morgan Library & Museum.

OSL is not the first orchestra to offer large-print programs for attendees, acknowledges Sacha Evans, OSL’s external communications manager.

However, given the enthusiastic response among audiences, they may become more common in other concert halls around the nation, she said.

The large-print program has proven popular not only with older concertgoers who may have age-related vision problems but also with younger classical music lovers, according to retired State University of New York State College of Optometry President Alden Haffner, O.D., Ph.D., who suggested them last summer after joining OSL’s board of directors.

“Even for younger people with good vision, the print traditionally used in symphony programs may be too small to comfortably read, particularly in the dim lighting of a concert hall,” said Dr. Haffner. “Many people will consult the program, not just before a performance, but during a concert,” he noted.

A regular at OSL concerts, Dr. Haffner proposed the large-print programs last year after being asked by another concert attendee for help in reading the seat number on a ticket. Given her trouble in seeing the seat number, Dr. Haffner asked the woman if she was able to read the concert program. “No,” she said. “I take it home and have my neighbor read it to me the next day.”

Dr. Haffner quickly convinced the OSL board to offer a limited number of large-print programs on a trial basis at a late summer concert to see if older people with vision problems would use them.

“The experiment was unsuccessful,” Dr. Haffner jokes. All of the large-print copies were quickly snapped up by audience members of all ages, leaving many older attendees with the small-print editions.

Shortly after this experiment OSL President and Executive Director Katy Clark decided the orchestra would begin making large-print programs available to all of its audience members.

Producing OSL’s large-print programs basically involves doubling the page size from 5.5-inch by 8.5-inch to 8.5-inch by 11-inch and increasing the text size from 9-point type to 12-point. 

OSL’s large-print editions are about twice as expensive as the regular programs, Dr. Haffner acknowledges, but it is well worth the extra cost.  

The large-print programs of other arts organizations may vary widely in their cost and format, OSL staff notes.

Optometrists could play a role in making other orchestras and arts institutions around the nation aware of the benefits of large-print programs, Dr. Haffner suggests.

“Sponsorship of large-print cultural affairs programs might be a great practice builder,” notes practice management author and lecturer Irving J. Bennett, O.D. “I know from personal experience that attendees at the Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Opera performances are full of grey hairs with many struggling to read the programs.”

With cultural organizations across the nation now cutting back their budgets, many might welcome funding from a local optometrist to help underwrite the cost of programs, Dr. Haffner adds.

An optometrist need not serve on the board of an orchestra or arts institution to suggest the use of large-print programs, Dr. Haffner said. However, practitioners may wish to consider service on such boards anyway. 

In many cases, practitioners may be able to offer valuable business expertise, he suggests.

While he had previously served on the boards of a number of academic institutions, public health entities, or optometric organizations, Dr. Haffner acknowledges he had never served on the board of a cultural organization until being invited to join the OSL board last year.

“However, I would never join such a board for self-serving purposes,” Dr. Haffner emphasizes. “The objective must be to support the arts.”

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