Recently, I was in a used bookstore in Franklin, North Carolina, a tiny mountain town west of Asheville. On the plywood shelves I found a collection of ten disintegrating copies of The Etude, a current events classical music magazine, from 1947. Every page is fascinating, even though the magazines are so moldy they make your eyes water and your lungs ache. There are reports of Stravinsky working on his “new opera” (The Rake’s Progress) and the American premiere of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony by the New York Philharmonic. There is an article on music education by Erich Leinsdorf when he was music director of the Rochester Philharmonic, a notice of an invitation to the “young American conductor” Leonard Bernstein to conduct the Czech Philharmonic, and a brief news report on the acquittal of Berlin Philharmonic music director Wilhelm Furtwängler from accusations of Nazi activities. The editorial attitude of the magazine seems to suggest that the publishers saw it as topically progressive, even though the articles and advertisements contain many social stereotypes from the time. But inescapable in these post-war editions is the palpable sense that musicians represented a great hope for the new and uncertain world.
An opinion piece in the May, 1947, issue states, “The time has long since passed when musicians were expected to stand submissively, as ‘souls apart’ outside the gates of world progress, and not participate in the tremendous movements of the age…the participation of musically trained minds cannot fail to be of priceless value to the body politic at this startling moment in world history.”
Nearly 70 years later, though the circumstances are different, the world again finds itself at a startling moment of unrest, and musicians most certainly will participate in the “tremendous movements” of this age as well.
When I step down from ICSOM this August, I will have served as Chair for ten years, a period longer than any of my predecessors. I will have also served on the Governing Board for twelve years and as an ICSOM delegate since 1993. I think that when anyone looks back on a moment of their life, it is unavoidable to wonder if they’ve made any difference in the grand scheme of things. I am certainly not immune from such self-questioning. But I do not have any doubts that the musicians of ICSOM have accomplished great things during this time, and I am very grateful that they have been so generous as to allow me to join with them in their efforts.
In this decade the musicians of our orchestras have endured numerous labor disputes, and outlasted a terrible recession. But they have not just endured, they have grown. They have stood against negativity, cultivated new techniques for negotiation and advocacy, and led the way in demonstrating how music is an inherent call for peace and inclusiveness.
The first major speech I gave to an ICSOM Conference was in San Diego in 2005, where as a new Member-at-Large to the Governing Board, I delivered a presentation called A Message of Hope. In those remarks I said, “Symphonic music will survive, and flourish, simply by proving its relevancy to the community.”
In this decade the world has changed, as have I, as have we all. The world has seen violent acts met with violent rhetoric, and battles of equality are waged in statehouses and through social media. But throughout it all, in an ever more present way, musicians have stood for peace, and have taken action with their art to bring compassion to those who are hungry, alone, suffering and discriminated against. Humanity will always persevere in the face of violence, and music will forever be a response to hatred.
In an interview in 1972, Leonard Bernstein said, “The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed…because people are changed by art—enriched, ennobled, encouraged—they then act in a way that may affect the course of events…by the way they vote, the way they behave, the way they think.”
If for a fleeting moment we could set aside the disagreements and maneuvering that infest all politics, from presidential politics to union politics, and reflect upon human relationships and the relationship of music to everything, the world could see that recent events have afforded us an opportunity for contemplation, if only voices of reason could be heard above the din.
In April, Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, stood on a stage in North Carolina where a controversial new law has imposed discrimination upon the LGBT community, and others. Following his performance of the Beethoven concerto, Bendix-Balgley (a native of Asheville) returned to the stage for an encore, not only carrying his violin but also a microphone. He spoke of his love for his home state and appealed for the realization that this law does not reflect who we are. He then performed the Adagio of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor in recognition of “all those who might not feel welcome or safe” due to the discriminatory law.
Wynton Marsalis once said “Sometimes excellence is a form of protest.”
When I was elected ICSOM Chair at the 2006 Conference in Nashville, I knew we would have to overcome adversity. But it was our determined intention to offer our members ideals to work for, instead of merely angrily articulating things to work against. There have been difficult times, and many long nights. But overwhelmingly it has been an honor and a joy to serve as chair of ICSOM for this past decade. I have been inspired by every musician I have met, and I have enjoyed working with leaders in all roles of the field. Together, we have been able to articulate a positive message of hope while demonstrating how music unites all people and creates a more compassionate world.
In the future, I know that the musicians of ICSOM will continue to demonstrate that our concert halls are open to people of all religions and faiths, all races and nationalities, all sexual orientations and gender identities, and to people who respect music across the entire political spectrum.
The musicians of America’s orchestras will continue to explore 21st Century methods to address 21st Century problems, and new styles of advocacy and activism for our orchestras and music will develop. Technology is a speedboat, but too often our organizations have been giant ocean liners, especially in the utilization of media. We cannot afford to move too slowly. Embracing new tools does not represent a surrender of tradition or solidarity, but rather it represents a crucial step in the preservation of our many institutions. As Mahler wrote, “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
The musicians of ICSOM have made much progress. Orchestras across North America have supported each other through ICSOM Calls to Action, demonstrating that what happens to one orchestra happens to all of us. There is a bit less of the destructively negative rhetoric about the future of the arts that has, at times, dominated the press. By expressing our own views we have articulated a vision of what is possible to achieve in the future. Music is now a part of federal education policy, the economic impact of the arts for our cities is widely recognized, music therapy is increasingly being accepted as treatment for numerous medical conditions, and soon an opera singer, Marian Anderson, will be honored on United States currency.
I’d like to thank you all for your support and friendship over this past decade. As I have traveled in my role as ICSOM Chair it has been an honor to be welcomed in your concert halls, backstage lounges, and homes. Musicians have accomplished great things by uniting together, but there is much work left to be done. I am confident that the next generation of ICSOM leadership will lead the organization to its greatest heights, and tremendous success awaits the next Chairperson.
As I look to my own future, I do not yet know the next steps on my path, or where the road ahead might lead. But I do know, like Frost, that I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
My love to you all,