Columbus Symphony Crisis: Some Truth-

Last Sunday evening I gave a free recital in my home, the second such event in a month. The audience loved the concert, relishing the opportunity to see musicians perform up close and speak with them afterwards. Cultivating relationships with music lovers nurtures their personal investment in the Symphony and offers a valuable path for development of a strong and dedicated support base.

Along with other musicians, I wish to contribute to the long term development of our Orchestra. Among us we share skills in budgeting, investing, technology, organization, outreach, management, public opinion and education, to list just a few, all of which could contribute to the success of management’s output. Yet our efforts to contribute have been met with disdain from management.

Recent heroic attempts by newly formed grassroots organizations to stir support for the musicians have been treated with suspicion and even hostility by current management, revealing the counter productive behavior we have witnessed for years. Lack of cooperation among all parties is suicide in today’s competitive market. We are eager to contribute. We await inclusion by our board and management. Yet, instead we get more hostile ultimatums and threats. Is this productive behavior?

In the past decade, the part of the budget for musician expenses increased about 4% a year, while operations expenses rose approximately 7% a year, significantly higher. Why are those expenses so high? In two of the past three years, the musician portion of the total budget was 39%, short of the national average of 40-50% for other orchestras. (In fact, that percentage should be lower, since the “in kind” donations of $1 million were excluded from the total budget.) Expenditures for musicians have been consistently lower than the national average, so why are they being asked to bear the vast majority of proposed cuts? Lack of effective answers to such questions has prevented a positive solution to our mutual problem.

Already six CSO musicians are embracing more secure employment opportunities. The effect of losing current CSO personnel is far-reaching. We teach the city’s children, in colleges, public schools and privately; we coach ensembles and orchestras, conduct the city’s amateur orchestras. We buy houses, pay taxes and spend our income here. The cultural drain caused by musician departures is taking place as we wait for effective solutions. Our board’s resistance to amicable communication underscores their tragic failure to champion the cultural gem of Columbus, its Symphony.

The behavior of current Symphony leadership is nothing short of sabotage. Canceling the popular and lucrative Summer season and failing to sell subscriptions for next season betray their intentions. This board’s failures began years ago. In order to stave off the current crisis, they should have implemented a comprehensive strategy at least two years ago, including, but not limited to, the following initiatives:

1. Capital Campaign from the Corporate Community
2. Capital Campaign of 30 top benefactors but seeking a major gift from one or two from the list.
3. Complete and submit numerous applications of grants to the various foundations in the United States with a particular emphasis on education of younger people who are taught by the Symphony members.
4. Develop a plan to seek State and Local support and fund it through a tax levy.
5. Develop a plan of action to involve all of the regional chamber of commerce's to solicit community support from Columbus and the outlying cities.
6. Develop and execute on a long term strategic plan for the Symphony with a particular emphasis placed on the Executive Director, staff and Board Leadership working as a team.

Board chair Buzz Trafford’s statements claiming donor fatigue and the City’s inherent lack of support the real problem; Columbus is fatigued by repeated attempts to support an organization with a lackluster, calcified board and management which has failed to serve the City and the orchestra. Music Director Junichi Hirokami said in the May 10 NY Times article that he has tried to solicit funds from companies in his native Japan. “But they don’t trust our board,” he added. “That is why they hesitate to support our orchestra.” Who would want to give money to a poorly run organization?

Economic data does not lie regarding the relatively high median income, population density and growth, corporate density and economic stability of the Columbus Metropolitan Area. ( Columbus can afford this orchestra. To regain the public trust, the current board and management need to step down so those more able can do what really needs to be done.

Great cities are built on thinking BIG. Why destroy the potential for greatness already within our City’s grasp? Junichi Hirokami said in the NY Times April 12th, “…In six years I can make this orchestra one of the best.”. We should be talking GROWTH: tours, recordings, a proud new concert hall for Columbus, not destruction. Fund raising will be easier with an exciting plan for growth. Our 2001 trip to Carnegie Hall demonstrated what is possible.

The musicians are the heart of the orchestra. Our part of the current budget is only $5.4 million out of $13.5 million (counting $1 million non-monetary “in kind” donations from various sources). It seems painfully obvious that our board of trustees, which claims to represent the higher aims of Columbus, should secure the current quality of music making by maintaining the musician’s part of the budget. Then, by utilizing the vast resources offered by volunteers, grassroots organizations and the musicians themselves, we can work together to build a truly great orchestra.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

5 comments for “Columbus Symphony Crisis: Some Truth-

  1. Jenny Floch
    May 12, 2008 at

    Good article, David. You are a hero in this fight!



  2. Lois H. Allen
    May 10, 2008 at

    This is an excellent presentation of the facts. Buy an ad, if you think the Dispatch will really print it. I will help pay.

  3. May 10, 2008 at

    This is an excellent comentary and it certainly should be published in the Disgrace!

  4. Orieta
    May 10, 2008 at

    I am glad that you presented the numbers on paper. This makes it clearer to me (and hopefully to many people out there) that the quality of music making, the money, and the audience support is solid. The management needs to rise to the same level.

Comments are closed.