The Burning of Atlanta

The crisis in Atlanta. Social media is currently inundated with articles, comments, viewpoints, support, criticism and all other imaginable forms of people voicing their thoughts and opinions about what is happening to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It is so easy for other musicians, and non-musicians, to look at this situation from a distance and think, “Wow. I’m glad that I’m not there, and that my orchestra/company is solvent and healthy.” I will admit to that thought myself; not just once, but twice, since the ASO was also locked out in 2012 as well. I was a Finalist for a position in the ASO in 2011, a position that since grad school I had held in my mind as a ‘Dream Job’. I was heartbroken to not be offered a trial period, but I was also very happy to return to Buffalo to a job I love in a city I proudly call home. So, yes, at this point I could comfortably sit here and view this situation from afar, feel bad for my musician brethren in Atlanta, and hope that it never happens here in Buffalo. I would further wager that many fellow musicians and non-musicians will do just that. Prove me wrong.

I recently read a wonderfully poignant article by a young double bassist, who had been preparing to audition for the position of Principal Double Bass with the ASO. Here is the link, and I suggest you read it.

To summarize, the author states that the Atlanta Symphony is essentially the largest, most influential orchestra [I will add Arts institution period] in the Southeastern United States. Based on a number of data (endowment, budget, musician complement, administration positions, among others) this is an accurate statement. I will cite the fact that they are at least the most recorded and awarded orchestra in the region, and among the leaders in these fields in the country as a whole.

To quote the article, “the Atlanta Symphony situation could potentially not just artistically devastate Georgia, but an incredibly huge geographic area of the United States.” The impact of an organization of the ASO’s size and stature is not easily measured, if even possible to measure. Here is a comment posted to the article:

“But how many music lovers would ever actually travel from the catchment area he identifies in order to hear the ASO? Many people in the USA, and not just in the south east, are not within reasonable reach of a major orchestra, and support instead their local college/university/community ensemble.”

That is, quite honestly, a valid point and true in many respects. But it is also short-sighted. What happens is a trickle-down effect: the Artists that an institution such as the ASO draws now go elsewhere – outside of the Southeast USA. The impact these Artists have through educational outreach, regional travel, teaching, creating chamber groups, coaching youth organizations, supporting other cultural institutions, etc. now leaves the region. The students who once came to study with these Artists now go elsewhere – and not in the Southeastern USA. These students do not study, mature, and now makeup the local college/university/community ensembles you speak of, for they were never drawn to the area to begin with. The people who make up these community, or regional orchestras, are also the people who substitute with the ASO, take lessons from ASO Artists, attend ASO concerts to hone their own craft, and then send their students to do likewise. This is how culture is nurtured and passed from generation to generation. Essentially, you’re cutting off the head and expecting the body to live.

As a musician, it is utterly terrifying to see the lack of support and stewardship from the leadership of the Atlanta Symphony. THE MUSICIANS ARE YOUR PRODUCT. How many times has this mantra been stated, in one form or another? We’ve seen it in Minnesota, the MET, Detroit…the list goes on. Orchestral music is not dead, or dying. Orchestras like LAPhil, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Dallas, Chicago….are thriving and reinventing themselves and how they impact their communities. Audiences want to be enchanted by orchestras, and learn something in the process. How you reach them is the issue, and a subject for another article. The art form is not dying, the old way of running it is.

So, I want to encourage my musician and Arts-supporting brethren around the country and globe to stand with the ATL Musicians, contribute their support on social media, read the articles smattering status updates, and be active in championing – not defending – our Art form and what it contributes to the communities in which we live.

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