Every day I scan a few arts websites for the latest news in the classical music world. In the past the news has been a sort of “who's who” of the music scene, detailing concerts, tours, etc. Lately, though, the news has taken an unfortunate turn with new stories daily about orchestras and opera companies having to cut their season short, or close their doors completely due to financial hardship. Connecticut Opera has cut the remainder of it's season and cannot refund the tickets it has already sold. Florida Grand Opera's music director will step down at the end of this season and will not be replaced in an effort to save money. New York City Opera currently has a 15 million dollar deficit.
It's all horrible news, but so are all the other job losses that are happening in other industries. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about my job and about music in general. Specifically, why music is important and why arts organizations are vital to the community. Concerts are meant to be entertaining, but I would venture to say that there is more to music than just a nice way to spend an evening.
The ability to recognize, appreciate, and create beauty is one of the things that makes us human. In our culture we mark important life-changing occasions, such as weddings and funerals with music. We sing “Happy Birthday” to our friends and lullabies to babies. Music provokes a powerful emotional response. The first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring incited a riot. As I mentioned in a previous post, Brahms Second Symphony is meaningful to me and always makes me happy, not necessarily because of the music itself (although I do like it) but because of my memories surrounding the first time I played it. Similarly, Barber's Adagio for Strings reminds me of a difficult time in my life and makes me incredibly sad. Many people have a particular song that will transport them back to college, or a piece that reminds them of their first love.
So, specifically, what does all this have to do with symphony orchestras and opera companies? Well, I'm going out on a limb to suggest that music is actually more important in difficult times than in profitable times. German poet and author Berthold Auerbach said that, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” These are dusty times.
I am not qualified to comment on the financial status of the Knoxville Symphony or the Knoxville Opera, so I won't. I will venture to say, though, that Newton's first law of motion applies: keeping any arts organization afloat is difficult in this economy, but it is far easier than having to start over once the doors have been closed and the lights darkened.