My life changed quite dramatically when the orchestra I played with for 13 seasons, the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, folded in 2003. Yes, my life changed, but of course also the lives of the other 80+ full-time FPO musicians, as well as all our full-time & part-time staffers, the hundreds of FPO volunteers, the tens of thousands of audience members, and finally the hundreds of thousands of school children who suddenly lacked a full-time, fully-professional, world-class symphony orchestra to have as their source of inspiration. Not to compare apples to oranges (or sports cars), but just imagine how the hundreds of South Florida youth football programs would be affected if the Miami Dolphins were suddenly to close operations.
Anyway, that tumultuous event in May of 2003 set me off on a path that I would never in my life have thought possible. But that’s another story – one to perhaps be included with my bio!).
This posting is to discuss how big orchestras can be better connected to their communities. In the case of my ill-fated FPO, one of our issues was that we served the largest geographical territory of any other orchestra in the US, even though by budget we were about the 20th largest orchestra in the country. That’s quite big, even though our huge annual operating budget (huge by orchestral standards) was less than $12 million was in 2003. So when the ‘excrement hit the airboat propeller’ in May of ’03, one of the key things we lacked was a specific community that would step up to the plate and say, “No sir, we’re not gonna allow this cultural jewel, serving one of the wealthiest areas in the US, to go down in flames.” Instead we had 6 separate S FL communities saying “Wow, we’re all really sorry, but there’s nothing we can do to prevent this cultural Armageddon.”
What I’m proposing here is the idea that, had the FPO been better connected with S FL’s school music programs, its youth orchestras, and its several universities, then perhaps it would’ve been an even tougher proposition for the S FL public to give up so easily in 2003.
I sincerely believe that public and private schools are all basically comprised of children whose parents want them to grow up able to recognize beauty and quality. Parents want their kids to know more about arts and culture than they were taught, not less. But it really is the responsibility of the large cultural institutions to see that their primary missions are focused on educating children – and this is particularly true with symphony orchestras, opera companies, and ballet companies.
The “education departments” of these larger institutions have historically been relegated the smallest portions of their overall budgets, and I’m suggesting that they by apportioned the largest portion. In fact, I’m suggesting that literally every department of an institution be tasked with organizing their individual missions around how they can most effectively serve and support the education department. It’s really the only way that the music most people ignorantly declare belongs in a museum can continue to be appreciated for more than its base historical value.
How to setup the educational mission of an orchestra in the way that I’m proposing will be complex to say the least. But nothing I’ll be suggesting will be worth one iota unless an institution is able to firmly commit to redirecting its focus entirely toward its education of children.
Much, much more to come…