"In December, we placed a paper ballot in our holiday pops program. That audience has a wide age range. We wanted to be inclusive," said Cooper. The symphony also provided the opportunity for online voting.
Cooper said a pattern emerged in the musical tastes by the voting method used. Paper ballot voters were more "traditional" in their choices, while online voters' favorites indicated a younger crowd.
Tallying the votes with integrity "was absolutely sacrosanct," according to Cooper. Concertgoers can be assured that the scores chosen reflect the actual votes cast.
"There was no skullduggery in this process," he said.
Cooper sees an advantage in movie music over symphonic music. Movie music is by definition "supported by a narrative scene or a kind of visual spectacular." He notes the score from "Jaws" is incredibly effective in its job, but it can't stand on its own as a piece of music.
That does not mean movie music never rises to the occasion of being its own art. John Williams composed the score for "Jaws," but he also scored the "Harry Potter" films and is the creative genius behind many other well-known movie themes. (In fact, 11 of the 33 nominees are his works.)
Cooper describes the "Harry Potter" scores as "really sophisticated" pieces doing intricate things with piccolo and bassoon, and yet he's watched audiences of children sit in rapt attention to the music alone. "We can create our own narrative without film present."
When asked about an encore process using audience ballots to drive WVSO content, Cooper is reflective. Will the symphony do this again?
"That's a good question and reasonably deep to answer," he said. "We know what people vote for by the way they buy their tickets."
The Symphony pays close attention to audience preferences and uses that data to influence its programming four to five years out, he noted.
Cooper is sensitive to the line between responding to audience interests and running "a popularity contest." The process he wants the WVSO to use for most of its concert presentations is more refined than simply running numbers.
"What we do is really an act of trust and faith between the orchestra and the public."
Reach Elizabeth Gaucher @ Elizabeth.Gauc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.