The Great Gnashing of Teeth
So the great gnashing of teeth and wailing to the orchestra gods of 2010 that was the League’s R/Evolution Conference in Hotlanta wrapped up a couple weeks ago. And the blogosphere has recently been publicly digesting the ideas and questions that were posed there. Of what I have read thus far, I think Drew McManus and Marc van Bree are probably two of the best informed and most thoughtful commentators on the whole event.
As with many things the league has done of late, I have my own concerns.
Ben Cameron, one of the speakers for opening session, was a very energetic, articulate, and very interesting speaker. But I don’t know if I actually liked what he said. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t like a lot of what he said, but as importantly, I didn’t like what he didn’t say. But I will get into that in a later post. Here is some of what he, quite passionately I might add, said.
We have to start by asking ourselves, “Why must we exist today?” Because having a concert hall and a board is no longer good enough, because having an endowment and a great staff is no longer good enough, because we have a scrapbook full of great reviews and critical notices and maybe even grammy awards is not enough, what is it in the external world that mandates that our symphonies flourish and thrive today?
Okay, so I agree that the accumulated items on his list – a functioning board, a reasonable endowment, good staff, previous accolades, a concert hall – are not enough to sustain future success. But who says it is? Also, who said that was the point? Orchestras don’t perform to support the board , or the endowment, or the staff, or the hall. I thought those things exist to support the orchestra.
Or am I missing something here?
What I also take serious issue with is this notion that what orchestras need to do is spend their time, energy, and money constantly asking questions like “Why must we exist?” Because, I believe it is a question that has already been answered.
I really do.
Art has value, music has value. Why? Because, like the fight for social justice, like scientific research, like Ipads and pods, and like kites and ice cream cones, art’s purpose is to improve the quality of our lives.
Orchestras don’t have to and shouldn’t be expected to be more than that. We offer a very specific kind of quality-of-life improvement. And, no, it doesn’t save lives like cancer research, and orchestral music doesn’t appeal to some people. But music is good (I think society endorses this general statement), and ice cream is good (again, I think you could actually get a 100 votes in the Senate tomorrow if this statement was a bill in congress).
Maybe I’m naive, but I truly believe that when orchestras perform with guts and ambition, and provide that singular experience unavailable anywhere else, the Big Question of “Why do we exist,” fades away, and audiences, performers, communities start asking, how could we go on with out this?
I think It’s really just that simple.
I will continue this thread for a couple more posts. There is a lot to discuss/digest. I highly recommend that everyone go watch the video from the opening session of the conference here.