In May 2007 I wrote an article for Senza Sordino about my travels as ICSOM chairman during my first fifteen months in office. At the time I estimated that I had traveled over 40,000 miles to meet with the musicians of ICSOM and the AFM.
Now, three years later, it is impossible for me even to attempt to estimate how far I have traveled to visit with musicians in North America and Europe. ICSOM’s message of unity has been heard from Berlin, Germany to Victoria, Canada. And, as I have sought to visit the world’s great concert halls, I have also sought to visit our great union halls. I have been honored to meet with local AFM officers, literally from San Juan to Honolulu.
I am, in many ways, the luckiest musician in America. As I travel, I do so with the support of thousands of artists, and with the hopes they all have for their families and their communities. I have been provided the deepest education that any orchestral musician could hope to have, and I am profoundly in the debt of every musician I have met.
I have heard the Phoenix Symphony in rehearsal and concerts, and I have stood with the musicians of the Jacksonville Symphony during their lockout. I have visited the Berlin Philharmonic backstage, and heard the Deutches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in the Philharmonie. I have sat in the “Ring” seats in Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, listening to the Colorado Symphony rehearse. I have been honored to meet with the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony for over three hours in their concert hall.
In all of these places and many more, I have been inspired by the dedication that the musicians of our orchestras display towards their communities and their colleagues. There can be no doubt that disputes exist among our ranks, but, when push comes to shove, my experience has been that every musician will stand side by side in any time of need.
I have many souvenirs of my travels. My music room is decorated with a lei given me by the musicians of the Honolulu Symphony, and I have every ticket stub from every concert I’ve attended (going as far back as a 1982 Virginia Symphony concert). I have orange wrist bands protesting the Columbus Symphony lockout, and an arm band calling for support for the Puerto Rico Symphony from the government entity that oversees the arts in that territory of the United States. I have framed notes from orchestra committees, such as the Minnesota Orchestra, that serve to remind me on a daily basis why I am doing this, and why every member of the ICSOM Governing Board works so hard in this mission.
All of these cherished mementos and memories serve me well, as on a daily basis I arise to fight the battle for the arts in this country. The musicians of ICSOM are an extraordinary group, and I suppose that I might have had as great an opportunity to meet them all as anyone since the inception of ICSOM. In this time of economic difficulty, I have relied on you all more than you’ll ever know for my inspiration. What I wrote in that 2007 Senza Sordino article I mentioned earlier is still true: “[O]n all-night flights back to North Carolina, I am never alone. … I carry the strength of our community of musicians with me everywhere I go.”
We all have many battles ahead as we seek to respond to the negative rhetoric that our managements tend to articulate, especially during this recession. Our position has been, and remains, that people will invest in organizations that are inspiring them and serving their communities, and that, in every respect, the incredible people who play in our orchestras give more to their cities than they receive.
Unfortunately, some weak managers continue to take advantage of the recession to reduce their organization to a size that their skill sets are more capable of managing. Musicians who love their orchestras have shown a willingness to make necessary adjustments, but instead of being met with similar commitment from their boards, they are instead met with ridiculous rhetoric that undermines the fund raising ability of their organizations.
While I don’t want to expose the name of a particular board or person, I was stunned when I met earlier this year with a board member of one of our nation’s greatest orchestras, in one of the world’s greatest cities, whose misguided message was committed to the idea that his city could no longer support one the greatest cultural assets of the world, and that the citizens of his city did not deserve all that they could have—and this was a person charged with inspiring people to give.
What evidence do I have that a negative view of an organization’s future is a poor fund raising tool? Well, I’d argue that offering positive news, and demonstrating the value of an orchestra is a productive message.
In May of this year, it was announced that the Kennedy Center had received a $22.5 million gift. Why would anyone make such an investment? Michael Kaiser, the Kennedy Center president, has been offering a positive message of hope and a positive marketing campaign, trumpeting what can be achieved as opposed to what will fail. I suspect that the $22.5 million will help him achieve the goals he so clearly and inspirationally articulated at last summer’s ICSOM Conference.
More evidence exists for me close to home for a different type of arts institution that is dedicated to growth and service. The North Carolina Museum of Art recently completed a brand new building, as well an outdoor concert hall, committed to displaying great exhibits and offering concerts of all types. An investment in a traveling Rodin exhibit, thought by many to be out of the reach of a North Carolina institution, instead propelled the museum to national prominence under extraordinary leadership. Has such an investment paid off, during a deep recession? Well, on May 26 it was announced that Wachovia had given the museum a $2.5 million gift. The museum has promised to use the grant for educational purposes.
As ICSOM has often stated, people and companies will invest in things that will serve the community, and they will not invest in things they are repeatedly told are not sustainable.
I have a mission ahead: to positively articulate the lessons learned from each and every musician I have met in my travels. Those who would suggest that the arts cannot survive are simply wrong. Those who would suggest that their orchestras cannot grow are themselves among the root causes of the problem, and until our field understands how to market a positive image, then I will be on the job, showing up wherever invited, meeting with boards, press, musicians, Congress, and our local officers, until our positive message is heard and repeated.
I never travel alone. I carry the good wishes of you all with me everywhere I go—and I profoundly appreciate the support you offer me. But, I am asking for even more.
Together, there can be no doubt that we will be heard.