I had a chance today to talk to Bruce Ridge, chair of International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). He is in Columbus for a few days to try to alleviate the communication crisis surrounding the Symphony.
He said something which struck me. Not only is he passionate about the exciting future of live orchestral music, but he takes a personal interest in the well being of orchestral musicians. He considers the 4000 members of ICSOM orchestras around the country as his family, and he loses sleep worrying about their personal fates as human beings. I am deeply moved by that commitment.
The following excerpts are taken from a letter Bruce wrote to the Dispatch Feb. 6, 2008. Despite its positive message, his words were never published.
No business model that suggests that a board can solve financial difficulties by offering an inferior product to its consumers will ever be successful.
The question for Columbus should not be "can we continue to afford to support our orchestra", but rather "how can we afford not to?" Too often lost in the discussion of orchestras in America is the simple fact that the arts are good business. The non-profit culture industry provides over 5.7 million jobs and accounts for over $166 billion in economic activity every year, including over $330 million in Greater Columbus alone!
Across the country, exciting things are happening for symphony orchestras. They are growing, they are thriving. Although we often hear a negative portrayal of the health of orchestras, in reality attendance is up, downloads are rising faster than for any other musical genre, operas are filling movie theaters, and the New York Times is proclaiming that this could be "the Golden Age for Classical Music."
Why should Columbus be left out of this renaissance? The Columbus Symphony is recognized as one of this nations' finest. The orchestra enriches the cultural life of the community, serves as an enticement for business, and promotes Columbus' thriving reputation.
It is simply a failure of leadership that has led to this draconian proposal from the board, and indeed it is that very failure of leadership that results in the "diminished confidence" of those who might otherwise contribute to the orchestra. Why then should trust be placed in this radical recipe for failure when it was designed by those who are responsible for creating this atmosphere of "diminished confidence"?
The musicians of the Columbus Symphony offer a message of hope for this beautiful city. Their commitment to community service is inspirational, and support is already pouring in from musicians and leaders all over the world. The citizens and political leaders of Columbus must ask why this board, while charged with serving their community, is promoting such a negative view of the future of the arts in your city?