Is Anybody Reading This?
If you are a musician reading this issue of Senza Sordino, I hope you are doing so for reasons that extend beyond those 68 measures of rests you are counting. Sometimes I have a gnawing feeling that our managers are perusing these missives just as often as our musicians—which is great, and I welcome them to this latest edition. I just can’t help but wish that I had a stronger sense that our musicians were reading them in greater numbers.
Writing these articles can be a little intimidating, knowing that copies will be sent to every colleague in ICSOM. As I write I can’t help but think of the time when, as a rejected and forlorn teenager, I returned a “Dear John” note to the girl who had written it, with my marks for grammatical errors and a big red grade of C-. (Hard to imagine why she might have been breaking up with me, isn’t it?) Fearing that what goes around just might someday actually come around, I am oddly comforted by the suspicion that these articles are not being read. But it is not at all comforting, and in fact rather disturbing, that ICSOM could possibly inspire apathy when it once inspired activism.
Maybe the battles were more romantic back then. Maybe the enemies were not so elusive that they were even difficult to identify. Probably there were those who worried about apathy then as well. I suppose that every generation produces indifference as well as revolution. Perhaps we have talked about the scourge of apathy so much that no one really cares about it anymore.
But at some point in every generation there comes a time to band together and to offer challenges of inspiration for a singular moment of opportunity. For orchestral musicians, and indeed artists as a whole, that moment of opportunity is before us. With the ubiquity of the Internet, our performances can travel farther than ever before. But to utilize this tool to its greatest extent, we must bond with our communities and “brand ourselves,” if you will, as indispensable assets.
Recent weeks have seen positive news about our industry. Leaping out in bold and colorful print from the front page of the New York Times “Arts and Leisure” section were headlines proclaiming “Rumors of Classical Music’s Demise Are Dead Wrong,” and “Classical Music: This is the Golden Age.” The Philadelphia Business Journal reported that the Kimmel Center, new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, generated three dollars for every dollar spent, creating a positive economic impact of $321 million for the community over a three-year period. When the Minneapolis Star-Tribune interviewed corporate business leaders, they understood that one of the ways to lure businesses to a community is to demonstrate “the quality-of-life improvement that the arts bring.” One business leader went further: “Big companies have recognized the value of the arts. It’s not necessarily philanthropic in the purest sense, it’s ‘how does it work for both of us.’ ” The New-Statesman in England reported that “live music and major events are flourishing more than ever.” We have read of successes in Colorado, balanced budgets in Dallas, and the impending opening of a beautiful new hall in Nashville.
Yet somehow, in spite of all of this, we continue to hear negative messages about symphony orchestras, messages that question their relevancy, sustainability, and inherent value to a city. These negative messages have been blindly promulgated for years, and yet classical music continues to exist, thrive, and inspire. In 1970, United Press International published an article that proclaimed “25 Symphonies Doomed to Die.” One of the orchestras alleged to be on its deathbed at the time was the very same Dallas Symphony that just announced its third consecutive year of balanced budgets.
The arts and symphonic music are flourishing in so many communities across our nation, educating our children and improving the quality of life in our cities—even for those who don’t attend orchestral concerts. In communities where the arts aren’t thriving, they should be. Those communities are missing their chance to elevate the name of their beautiful city, to promote business, and to engage in the most noble and romantic of ideas—the elevation of the human spirit. Let us all work together to spread this message far and wide. Through a stronger ICSOM, one that promotes our shared view of the arts and our communities, we can improve the communication that has linked our orchestras with their successes for many years.
And I suppose that brings me around to the point: ICSOM and all of its members need you to participate in this process. We need every musician, in every orchestra, reading and discussing the ideas that are before us. We need every ICSOM orchestra represented at the annual ICSOM Conference, and we need every delegate to inform and to help lead their orchestras. We need these things not only to fight for our mere existence, but also to fight for what we can become. Despite all of our achievements, there is so much more we can do and to which we can aspire. Opportunity awaits, but not where any orchestra, musician, or community can journey alone.
So, if you’ve actually made it to the end of this article, let me know. Or, better yet, let one of your colleagues in your orchestra know. And if by chance you didn’t make it all the way through, I understand. I don’t take it personally. I probably owe many of you a return phone call or an email anyway. But if you are enjoying reading this edition of Senza Sordino, I encourage you also to read Julie Ayer’s great book, More Than Meets the Ear, on the 40-year history of ICSOM. As we stand at this moment of opportunity for the arts, and as we once again band together, let us wonder what they will write of us in 40 years. We hope that they will be proclaiming that symphonic music still thrives, due in no small part to the actions we will take over these next few years.