What is the value of an orchestra?
A typical perception of an orchestra is validated by research, which indicates that sixty percent of adults express at least some interest in classical music, and nearly one-third of adults fit classical music into their lives regularly, in their autos and at home, but fewer than five percent are regular patrons of their local orchestras.
Many might think that if a community can simply say it has an orchestra, that’s enough.
This way of thinking suggests that an orchestra’s value lies in bragging rights, wherein community leaders proudly point to their orchestra’s existence as an enticement to bring new businesses and residents into their communities. While it is certainly legitimate for a community to be proud of its orchestra, what purpose beyond community pride and a sense of exclusivity does an orchestra truly contribute?
In order for an orchestra to be relevant it must be willing to connect to and serve the community, to be inclusive not exclusive. One way for an orchestra to exclude wide cross sections of a community is to only serve up music that is appreciated by a small portion of its population. Another way to be exclusive is to charge prices that exclude many people from being able to afford to attend. While orchestras most deservedly have a right to charge admission, they should also be out to connect to the entire community instead of only those who can afford the price of admission.
An inclusive orchestra finds ways to empower every member of the community with an affordable or free opportunity to hear live orchestral music. This can be done through free concerts, school programs, and diverse venues using the full orchestra, small ensembles and offering its musicians as music instructors and teachers.
The community’s responsibility, however, becomes clear: They must financially and emotionally support the orchestra, its musicians, its programs and initiatives, and its growth, allowing the orchestra to expand its inclusiveness and its ability to connect.
Musically, the relevance of orchestral music is not only found in the music of the past but in current music. The majority of symphonic music being produced today, for example, is found in the highly popular music scores of the film industry. The popularity of film music underscores the ability of orchestral music to connect to a wide cross section of people in spite of often large social, economic, gender and age differences. Well rounded orchestral programs serve their audiences by presenting music from a diverse background. An orchestra that is connecting with its community is reaching out through the music it performs, instead of excluding people because of the music it performs.
The Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra is unique in that a smaller communities the size of Airdrie, Cochrane, Strathmore, Okotoks, etc, typically do not have their own orchestra. Without an orchestra, children are raised lacking many of the advantageous music education opportunities that other children receive in more far-sighted school districts. Even with an orchestra there’s no guarantee, however, as evidenced by the lack of a strings program in the all the Rural School Districts.
Without its own orchestra, live orchestral music is only heard by residents willing to travel to larger centres. With a local orchestra a community can reap the benefits of an expanding awareness of the diversity of music, and benefit from an orchestra’s unique ability to positively influence creativity of thought, behaviour, emotions, education and events.
The orchestra’s responsibility to its community should be multi-dimensional, not limited to only serving up music. An orchestra leads by demonstrating value and giving. Highly unique in its approach to volunteerism, orchestras set the standard for volunteering, with women leading the way. According to the Symphony Orchestra Institute there is no organization that has such such an overwhelmingly high degree of women-led community service as the orchestra.
Musicians are unique in the degree of their training. Where most people don’t begin qualifying themselves for their job or life’s work until they are out of high school or even college, musicians almost always start at a far earlier age. Musicians practice when they are beginners, and still practice after 50 years of experience, forever dedicated to bringing their best efforts to their audiences.
Orchestral music is a powerful art form that has the ability to bring about positive change and spiritual renewal. It sets the standard for volunteerism, and provides opportunities for in-depth music education and training. With its unique ability to bridge the gap in a community, an orchestra can be a strong catalyst for community improvement.
Supported by its community and essential to its health, an orchestra becomes a jewel of musical expression to enjoy and experience for generations. An orchestra gives meaning to our lives, and in the ears, minds and hearts of most people, that’s valuable.
Above all, please attend the concerts in your area. The musicians give so much of themselves to prepare and share these concerts - support by your attendance is a way to give and receive.
Want to get involved? The RMSO is always in need of volunteers in front-of-house and behind-the-scenes roles.
Don’t have the time to volunteer? Consider a one-time or recurring financial gift to sustain Orchestra operations. With giving levels as low as $10/month, you can help make a difference in the community and the education of young people.
Have a business? Sponsor a concert or support the orchestra with an ad in the programme.
Above all, be proud of your orchestra. Tell others about it, and celebrate the success and mission of the orchestra. Attend for enjoyment/relaxation, or for mental/spiritual stimulation.
See you concert day!