November 11, 2011 at 10:09 PMI could get very depressed about the recent travails of American symphony orchestras -- and symphonies all over the globe. For example, here is a short list of symphonies who have recently faced, or are currently facing, serious financial difficulties. It is by no means complete:
A longtime Violinist.com member, frustrated with the ongoing financial difficulties of her local orchestra, put it very starkly: "There should be no surprise at all. Combine the recession, the lack of interest in the music, and boards/CEOs that don't have the musicians' careers at heart, and presto! A whole art form can be wiped away in less than 10 years. Maybe seven."
Is that an extreme statement, or not? Certainly, the world has changed since I first started playing in orchestras in the early 90s. There are fewer opportunities for musicians to play, or to make a career of music. And frankly, to have fine music, you need to have musicians who can work as musicians. Symphonies have always struggled financially, but today's struggles seem more extreme.
Is there anything we can do to support our local symphonies? Any kind of education campaign that we can support as Violinist.com, to encourage support for symphonies? I certainly would take your suggestions.
In the mean time, how is your local symphony doing, wherever in the world you are? Do you have a local symphony? Please share your stories.
I have surmised that it is about community, attitude, leadership, and of course, money that determines an orchestra's success. I would prefer not to name specific orchestras, but I will list them in an order and talk about each one.
A) Community orchestra I DON'T play in: it scrapes from the bottom of the barrel financially, the conductor is rude and demeaning, people hate playing there, they get paid almost nothing (literally), the community doesn't support it on the whole, and the community is economically wealthy enough to support it more than it does. It is the closest orchestra to me.
B) Community orchestra I DO play in: no one is getting paid what they are worth, everyone loves being there, the conductor is pleasant and good to work with, the community loves the orchestra, and people from all over come to play in the little orchestra that could. I travel a ways myself to play in this orchestra.
C) Community orchestra I sometimes sub for: Same as B, but a little disorganized on the management part. No animosity, however.
D) Semi-pro orchestra I am a tenured member for: Management is not good. I travel a long ways to play in it. It is the most professional gig I have, and I grew up in the area and have been playing in the orchestra for 8 years now. Many of the people are nice, conductor is good, but people are unhappy with how we have been treated. However, there is contention within the orchestra between some of the members. Financially, we are fine, but management makes it seem like we are scraping the bottom. Yet, still the best paying gig I have.
E) Tier 3 professional orchestra: the second closest orchestra to me. I am not in it because I keep auditioning and not winning the audition. Financially it is a bit hard, community supportive, players mostly doing well, conductor can be cranky, but on the whole is quite functional and a good example to others in their level.
So really, it isn't always about money. It's about attitude and leadership. Unfortunately, sometimes what the community sees is not what the orchestra sees in a conductor, or sometimes it's management, or sometimes it can be the players. It all depends.
Laurie, thank you for expressing your concern. If you are feeling this way, then I know it's not just me, a somebody from a small town feeling it. I too am feeling a bit down on the orchestral situation, and I am even trying to complete a thesis on the career of it, but I keep reminding myself not all is lost, and there are still people who want the music. People need it, whether they realize it or not. Sounds idealistic, but I believe it.
I would love to come up with a campaign or something--I'll be thinking upon it.
The struggles of orchestras may seem extreme, but the struggles of everybody employed at this time is also extreme. I feel that professional musicians have to take this into account ... No, you're not being singled out!
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Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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