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Laurie Niles weekend vote: How is your local symphony doing, financially?

November 11, 2011 at 10:09 PM

I 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:

Brooklyn Philharmonic
Colorado Symphony
Dallas Symphony
Detroit Symphony
Honolulu Symphony
Louisville Symphony
Philadelphia Orchestra

A longtime 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, 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.

From bill platt
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 11:36 PM

From di allen
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 12:14 AM
the Portland, Oregon, Symphony finished in the black last year. They made money! An energetic conductor, imaginative programming, great soloists and a beautiful hall made this possible. And a committed music-loving public!
From Mendy Smith
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 1:22 AM
though I'm in Houston now, I still consider Portland home (and Di beat me to the punch). The OSO is a great band with a dedicated audience. They are out and about representing the OSO in the community frequently and often. Great bunch of folks.
From Robert Spear
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 1:11 PM
You can add the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and the Utica Symphony Orchestra to your list of orchestras in trouble. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, on the other hand, appears to be faring much better. Of more concern to me than the easy-to-see problems of major urban orchestras is the plight of smaller orchestras that are dying quietly out of the spotlight. I think we focus too much on the top tier of most things in our society and fail to understand that structures are built from the bottom up.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 1:37 PM
Since many orchestras have had pay cuts or freezes, perhaps a "treading water" category would be appropriate.
From Paul Deck
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 2:29 PM
Our local symphony is the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. RSO has done fairly well, and I think the Number One Reason is because of the incredible intensity, artistry, and charisma of its music director, David Stewart Wiley. When you meet Maestro Wiley, you know you are talking to a great artist (conductor, pianist, composer and arranger) who is also among the warmest and most genuine people you'll ever meet. We are so lucky to have Wiley in Roanoke, even though we do share him with the Long Island Philharmonic.
From Amanda Riley
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 5:47 PM
What a scary thought, a whole art form being wiped out in 10 years. Although, I don't believe that could happen. I belive that people can play for the love of music, not money. If you are turning down gigs that don't pay, you could be missing out. Yes, a little extra cash at the end of the day is nice, especially in these trying times, but what could be better than going and giving people the gift of music and expecting nothing in return except there happiness and gratefulness?
From Rebecca Darnall
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 6:13 PM
Currently, I have various orchestras on my plate that are in various stages. Also, I have some orchestras around me that I am not in for various reasons, but are also in various stages.

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.

From Pamela Moore
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 10:28 PM
I feel that all of the struggles of orchestras have to be linked to the struggles of ALL workers in this country. I know of many people who have had cuts in pay/benefits, or lost their jobs, and they aren't musicians. The reduction in tax revenue (at least in this state) demonstrates that people are spending less across the board, simply because they are taking in less.

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!

From Tony Boone
Posted on November 13, 2011 at 7:10 AM
All sectors of the economy are in a downward spiral EXCEPT BANKING AND FINANCE WHEREIN THOSE PARASITES ARE SUCKING THE VERY LIFE OUT OF AMERICA THROUGH USURY. Couple that with a decline in the value of the dollar and you have a formula for a depression. The first thing people will do when their expendable income is diminished is to purchase only what is necessary to survive.
I do that anyway and I suspect entertainment and the arts are one such expenditure that's being put on hold by most Americans.

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