Music Matters!

President’s Message, April 2006

With more than 1,800 symphony, chamber, collegiate and youth orchestras across the country, America is brimming with extraordinary musicians, live concerts and orchestras as unique as the communities they serve.

Orchestral music making is alive and well in our country, offering significant artistic, social and economic contributions at the local and national levels. There are over 635,000 people involved in orchestras in America, and over 75% of them are volunteers. And that’s not even counting the millions who attend orchestra concerts. In a 2002 sampling in ten cities across the United States, orchestras reached 15-20% of households. Clearly orchestras and music matters.

Like many of today’s largest and most successful orchestras, the BCO was founded with just a handful of musicians. For many years the Bedford area didn’t even know the Orchestra existed. But musicians are persistent, and the BCO’s musicians were determined to grow their orchestra.

As orchestras grow and become more deeply embraced by their community, budgets grow. Budgets grow because of the community’s growing awareness of the value of its orchestra. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, for example, has a $30 million annual budget. By comparison, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra has an annual budget of $4.2 million, with 22 full-time and 6 part-time staff. The BCO, by contrast, has no full time or part time employees. The Richmond Symphony has a complement of 72 musicians, with a full time core of 36 musicians. The BCO has a core of approximately 45 musicians, and has clearly grown past the point of needing several full time staff members.

While concert tickets for the largest orchestras can run over $100 per seat, community orchestras often endeavor to offer free concerts. These smaller orchestras, however, generally have the lowest level of community financial support. So, there is a point in time where either the community orchestra can no longer afford to exist, or the community rallies to financially support and help empower the orchestra to go to its next step.

Jerry Franklin, President of the Danville Symphony Orchestra writes, “A typical orchestra of (the DSO’s) size has a budget of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Of course, the DSO has no such budget. We are able to provide this service through the generous contributions of the citizens, businesses and non-profit organizations of this region.

“The sixty or so regular members of the orchestra are non-paid, and along with our illustrious conductor, all volunteer time and talents for free. Some even contribute money to the cause, in addition to the time and talent provided. Also, we have volunteers who work behind the scenes to move and setup equipment, usher, manage the web site, do mailings, and a thousand other details that make the organization what it is.”

As Franklin implies, supporting even an all-volunteer orchestra is expensive. Compared to either professional or smaller symphony orchestras, outside financial contributions to the BCO are extremely modest. In fact, most of our support is from within the Orchestra. In the past five years, the Bedford Community Orchestra has donated over $200,000 in free concerts to our community. Most of the expense of that has come directly out of the pockets of our Music Director, musicians, and board members. Of course, we have also received contributions from donations from our concert goers, “Friends of the BCO”, and local organizations and area businesses.

People attend orchestral concerts because they love the music and the experience of live performances. People financially support their orchestra because they want to support the improvements that an orchestra brings to the community. What kind of improvements? It’s a long list that includes youth orchestras, pre-service and in-service training for music teachers, residencies, internships, Master classes, programs in public schools and colleges, continuing education programs, composition workshops, instrumental training, special education programs, workshops and coaching, competitions, small ensembles and work with other community arts.

The American Symphony Orchestra League, which represents nearly 1000 orchestras of all sizes, shares insights into an orchestra’s value to its community:

The vast majority of American citizens believe that live performing arts significantly improve the community.

One of the most important assets of a community is its children, and 90% of people surveyed believe that music and the arts are important to the education of children. Children exposed to music are known to score higher academically.

Communities with orchestras attract “super citizens” – volunteers, voters, philanthropists and other active, civic minded participants.

The presence of an orchestra can be an indicator of a community’s economic development.

Susan Wiener, executive director of the Georgia State Council on the Arts says, “Because the community has a sufficient mass of corporate and individual donors to support a symphony, it is more attractive to businesses looking for a location that also offers live music and other artistic amenities. The presence of an orchestra also indicates what I call a community’s economic maturity: a diverse base of industrial and service corporations that are stable and growing, that present an audience of ‘super-citizens’ to sponsor, financially support, and volunteer for nonprofit arts organizations.”

Orchestras play well with others. Orchestras are essential and active partners in increasing access to music education, improving the quality of life in their community by collaborating with school systems and other local partners to deliver a wide array of education and community programs.

To grow our community in an extraordinary way, we need “super-citizens”, people who volunteer and give to their community – not for their own personal benefit but to help the community, with all of its diverse members and constituencies, to advance and improve.

An orchestra can catalyze a community to grow in directions that could not possibly occur without an orchestra. But it needs the services of a constantly growing cadre of skilled and dedicated volunteers, as well as the financial commitment and pride of the entire community.