Does a mid-sized city like Charlotte even NEED a professional Symphony Orchestra?
As this Observer article explains, the Charlotte Symphony is in serious financial trouble:
Clearly the community cannot financially sustain a professional symphony orchestra. Does it need to? Ought it? Nope.
Certainly we need to save the great institutions – New York, Chicago, LA, even Cleveland, Detroit, and perhaps Cincinnati – the ones with a long, distinguished recorded legacy and clear areas of excellence (Chicago brass, LA’s commitment to new music, etc.). But mid-sized cities don’t need a professional symphony orchestra just for the sake of having one.
The Symphony Orchestra is a dead artform. It doesn’t have anything new to say, and hasn’t had anything new to say for over 100 years (it was 1908 when Schoenberg “emancipated the dissonance” and declared tonality dead). The public’s lack of interest in symphony orchestras as anything other than cultural relics or fetishized commodities is evidence enough of this.
Symphonies are relics of 18th-century aristocracy and 19th-century bourgeois industrialism. They’re super-big, and super-expensive; they need to be subsudized by someone, either an aristocrat, industrialist philanthropists, or the civic government. They were never designed to be self-supporting. If we think the record industry’s economic model is incompatible with the post-industrial information economy, the symphony’s economic model is two or three “economies” out of synch.
Mid-sized cities like Charlotte don’t need professional symphony orchestras, nor do they have an obligation to subsidize one. We have at least one university symphony (and wind ensemble!) where patrons can go for high-quality performances of the symphonic repertoire. There are amateur and para-professional groups in town, too. We should educate ourselves and our students about the history of Western art music, and these institutions – as well as the vast recorded ouevres of veritable genius conductors and performers – suffice for this. Honestly, I would rather listen to Bernstein or Boulez on my ipod than go to a passable CSO performance. Moreover, the symphony is not a locus/site of musical innovation: having a professional symphony orchestra will not bring “new” music to town, nor will it be an innovation engine. For that, you need smaller, “new” art music ensembles. You also need support for more “popular” musics.
So no, you will not see me at the rally for the CSO, even though I’m a huge supporter of music, music education, and the arts generally. Spend the money teaching CMS students how to use Protools and Ableton.
I am flabbergasted as to your response about our Charlotte Symphony. For years our symphony has served many as both an avenue for musical enjoyment and for musical exposure. To assert that listening to a CD instead of attending performances by our local synmphony degrades not only the live performance, but also demeans the entire experience that one gains by participating through the listening experience. Listening to a CD and experiencing live performance are not the same for many listeners. To suggest that it is, is a parochial insight. The same would transfer to a pop concert–why not just buy the CD? Your own band would certainly suffer from this point of view.
The symphony also provides assistance to many as a result through charitable benefit concerts. I am perplexed that as a professsor (of philosphy) you would elect to maintain this elititst viewpoint. Is exposure to all not a more universal virtue? Symphonies may not play the “new music” as often as you would like to hear, but that does not mean that there is not life and newness to other symphonic literature when performed again.
Offering symphonies in the cities you listed in your blog would greatly limit playing opportunities for performance majors in music schools in those mid-sized cities, too. This vicariously creates an overpopulation of weel-trained musicians in university music schools who may not go into philosophy as another career, or renders mid-sized music departments less viable. Also, these symphonies may provide a training ground, if you will, for those A-list symphonies you cite. Your viewpoint came across to me as condescending and insulting, especially in view of your stance as a feminist who presumably perpetuates the values of equality and tolerance. I, too, am part of a miniority group and I am grateful you do not represent me: your attitude does not reflect someone of higher education, rather someone of complete pretention. William D. Johnson, Charlotte, NC
Thank you for your comments, William.
I am sorry that you see my remarks as condescending. However, this really is an issue of power and equality for me. Let me break it down:
1. Symphony orchestras are not self-supporting, nor were they ever designed to be (I discuss this further in the main post).
2. Many other genres, bands, styles, etc. of music are not self-supporting. They are either subsidized by record companies or by the artists themselves (e.g., with day jobs).
3. The preference for the “classical” symphonic repertoire is one musical taste among many musical tastes. In terms of cultural impact, it is not the only historical genre that significantly influences contemporary music (e.g., jazz, West African and Afro-Caribbean music, etc.).
4. The “classical” symphonic repertoire and the institution of the symphony orchestra receives a majority State (i.e., tax-generated) support available for musical organizations/musicians.
5. Why is #4 the case? Power. The symphony orchestra and its repertoire is The Western Canon. It gets funding b/c centuries of Eurocentrism/bourgeoiscentrism have deemed it the “norm” in terms of “art” music. There is symphony hegemony at work here: hegemonic notions of aesthetic significance lead governments to support symphonies to the exclusion of other forms of music-making (forms which often have much greater professional opportunities, and which may speak more relevantly to pre-college students).
So, my real concern here is that we’re funding symphonies to the exclusion of other kinds of music-making and music education. We DESPERATELY NEED to be teaching electronic music production in public schools (e.g., protools). We need to teach students BOTH the music they listen to and want to make, AND _all sorts_ of marketable musical skills (which include band, orchestra, and choir, but are not limited to them). We need to be funding musicians of all sorts – not just those who work in privileged cultural institutions.