Friday, June 12th
[First, my apologies for taking so long to get this written. I spent the weekend visiting college buddies in Madison WI and just never managed to find the opportunity. When I did have a bit of down time, I put up Yvonne Caruthers’ latest post from China instead of my blog – seemed more important. I’ll keep blogging all week, to fill in the holes I’ve left in this account.]
Friday at conference started out with a performance by the Chicago Youth Orchestra at Orchestra Hall – I arrived about half-way through Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel and was totally impressed by the quality of the performance. The horn players nailed every horn call, and the orchestra sounded just wonderful.
Jesse Rosen, League President, then gave his President’s speech. Jesse has a very relaxed, informal demeanor, and spent his time outlining as many positive events that have transpired in the orchestra world in the past season as he could find. But addressed the bad times as well.
He began by introducing Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest). The League partnered with Feeding America in a food drive at concerts at over 250 League member orchestras in all 50 states that raised over 200,000 pounds of food. Many of the orchestras involved in the food drive partnered with many other local organizations, and some held contests. Indeed one orchestra had a contest to see who could stuff the most food into a tuba. Jesse cautioned that, in homage to Chicago’s legendary tubist, Arnold Jacobs, the delegates should “lay off tuba jokes!” – a line that got a huge round of applause and many laughs.
In a more serious tone, the motto of Feeding America is, “food fuels the human spirit.” Jesse aptly made the comparison that orchestras also feed the human spirit. He went on to say that the partnerships many orchestras forged with other organizations in collecting food for the needy showed that orchestras care about the collective health of our communities where we live.
Vicki told two stories: one about the movie The Soloist which tells the story of Nathanial Ayers, a Julliard-trained cellist who ends up on the streets of LA due to mental illness, and is befriended by a newspaper reporter. Nathaniel is one of the 25 million people served by Feeding America.
The second was about a letter, received by a food bank in Norfolk VA, that contained a check for $15,000 from a donor who had never given before. She had heard about Feeding America on national media, and checked to see that the national organization served her own community. The check was part of her husband’s severance check – he had recently been laid off by GM but they wanted to share what they had. A pretty amazing story.
Jesse then turned his attention to the economic downturn, stating that attendance is still high despite the economy. He talked about the Louisiana Philharmonic, who were one of the “first responders” after Katrina in terms of playing a large role in healing New Orleans. They began by playing in area churches and 4 years later, they’re still playing in those churches because of the community ties. [Ed. Note: Polyphonic recently published a spotlight on the LPO http://www.polyphonic.org/spotlight.php?id=16.%5D
Jesse mentioned how musicians in Atlanta and Baltimore have initiated conversations about how to cope with the recession; musicians in other orchestras are following their example. How “Beyond the Score” in Chicago is really making a difference in the way that audiences relate to the orchestra. How the Dallas Symphony premiered a work by Steve Stucky, “August 4, 1964,” celebrating the 100th birthday of LBJ and his role in the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. About Michael Morgan and the Oakland East Bay Orchestra celebrating their community heritage with a performance around the Persian New Year.
Jesse tells me that the League plans to open membership to all administrative staff and musicians who want it next fall, and he’s working on getting Symphony magazine distributed among musicians.
To sum up, Jesse insisted that collaboration is the right thing to do for art because it grows more connections and creates a synthesis. Orchestras are resilient and have deep roots. Basically he thinks we’ll survive because we’ve figured out how to do so in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Orchestras can adapt. I’d say stay tuned for more about that.
Alas, I didn’t stay for the New Music performance because I had to attend to some email messages that had come in that morning, finish packing and check out of my room. I heard from others that it was a really interesting concert, featuring the CSO’s MusicNOW with performances of music by Osvaldo Golijov, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Jeremy Flower, and Michael Ward-Bergeman.
Everyone then traipsed back to the hotel for another round of Toolboxes and Perspectives – again too many interesting sessions presented simultaneously.
1) Beyond the Chicago Symphony’s “Beyond the Score” – I took notes (by hand – remember the near riot of the day before!) during the performance and will describe it in some detail in another post later this week. I really wanted to attend this one but was committed elsewhere.
2) Getting the Most out of Social Networking, about how orchestras can use Facebook, Twitter, etc.
3) El Sistema USA: Taking the Next Steps – I did attend this session and took copious notes. I plan to turn this into an article, so stay tuned for more information. Dan Trahey from the Baltimore Symphony headed for Venezuela immediately after this session and will be sending “postcards” of his trip to me while he’s down there with 18 music educators and his group, The Archipelago Project. We’ll get those up on the home page of Polyphonic shortly.
4) A Hard Look at Today’s Economy – self-explanatory
5) Difficult Conversations – another session I really wanted to attend, with ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge, League Board Chair Lowell Noteboom, Jesse Rosen, and Peter Kjome, Exec. Dir. of Grand Rapids discussing how orchestras can deal with the current financial pressures in terms of compensation, admin. head count and contracts. The hard stuff.
6) New Models for Consortium Commissioning: Expanding the Repertoire/Growing Community Connectivity – another session I wish I could have attended, particularly given my conversation with Jeffrey Biegel the morning before. I’ll try to get some notes from the presenters.
I wish these sessions were presented several times, so I could attend more than one. As I said above, I’ll get into El Sistema USA in much more detail soon.
At this point in Conference, everyone was getting pretty brain-dead and I was thrilled to hear my phone ring and find Bruce Ridge on the other end. We met for lunch in the hotel restaurant, sitting near Lowell Noteboom and his wife – Lowell wanted to know why I hadn’t been at their session, furiously typing away ( I guess I now have a reputation for furious typing!). I wish I had been there but then I found the El Sistema session fascinating (and I was typing furiously there as well!).
At lunch Bruce looked really tired – he’d left North Carolina in the wee hours to get to Chicago in time for the session, and was flying back early that same evening. His travel schedule on behalf of ICSOM is daunting, to say the least (I’d say grueling!). But he was in his usual good spirits and we had a grand visit – it’s always special to find some time to catch up with Bruce. We talked a lot about the role musicians should be playing in “officially” consulting to orchestras in trouble – or actually to any orchestra. At this point, the concept of paying a musician to consult with an orchestra about future planning is just not out there. Bruce and many others in ICSOM, ROPA, & OSCM and SSD are doing this already but without much significant recognition from the administration side of our industry. This could be a significant career path for some of us who’ve spent time serving in so many capacities – we just need to make the admin folks realize how much knowledge we really do possess, and how much that should be worth to them in $$$.!
After lunch I stopped in briefly at a Development round table session to see how they were addressing the economy, and then went in search of a “quiet corner” with WiFi to write this blog. I found the corner and wrote two sentences but then realized that my “corner” was on a central traffic route for delegates. Lots of meets and greets, and then Aaron Flagg and I had a chance for a private conversation. Aaron, a musician member of the League Board, is the incoming Dean of the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, and will be living just a few blocks from the HSO administrative offices downtown. He had lots of questions and I had lots of advice (for whatever it’s worth…) about his move to Hartford, whom he should get to know sooner rather than later, the buzz about his arrival going around town, etc. Good stuff.
Then I had to boogie to get to the rental car place before they closed and headed off to visit Yale friends in Wilmette. Saturday morning I drove up to Madison WI where I met with several people I hadn’t seen in 37 years. What a wonderfully fantastic weekend – a dear friend from college drove all the way over from Minneapolis for a visit.
I promise I’ll fill in the gaps in this account of the League Conference in the next few days so keep checking back. As long as the large graphic link is up on the Polyphonic home page, I’m sill adding entries. Then we’ll move it to the blog list for a while.