Why Failing Orchestras Are the Problem of Every American


As the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra faces a lockout between its management and musicians, we find a troubled industry in the news once again. Orchestras are falling like dominoes. The mood is tense and the forecast is dismal. An erosive force, continual and subtle, is eating away the core of a cultural institution. You may have heard this story before: classical music is in decline, music education is so important, but why should you care? Failing orchestras create severe economic, social, and cultural repercussions for our nation as a whole. This is very much your problem.

Orchestras are more than just organizations that perform music. They have a direct impact on local economies. They increase tourism and raise the status of a city. Many of the musicians in orchestras are also teachers, who are actively training students in the community. When orchestras fail, high caliber musicians are more likely to look for work in other cities. Music education leads to fuller development of the brain, which leads to increased math and science scores. This leads to more engineers, scientists, and innovators. At a time when America is getting its ass kicked in math and science, music education should be more of a priority now than ever for the sheer sake of global competitive advantage.

The musicians who make up an orchestra are highly trained individuals who have devoted their lives to musical excellence. They achieve this level of mastery through hard work and discipline that begins at a young age. When you attend a live concert, there are no auto tuners or speakers. The margin of error is slim, as there are no effects that can save or distract an audience from mistakes. It is an organic experience. Such an experience should always have value in a society that is built upon work ethic and determination.

It’s illogical not to give classical music a try. Hollywood makes a lot of terrible movies, but rarely do we say we will never watch a movie again if we do not enjoy it. The classical repertoire is vast, and to say you don’t like classical music means that you simply haven’t found something you liked. For some reason, when it comes to classical music, we don’t look past the same faults that exist in popular mediums. More and more orchestras are making major changes to their programs to attract new audiences. They are trying. We should meet them halfway.

If we only support the things that have the most marketing money thrown at them, we have already lost our freedom of opinion. If we only support the things that satisfy us now, and are not good for our future, we have already lost our sense of direction. And if we only support the things that are new, then we have lost all the wisdom that has been preserved over the ages. In order to avoid the fate of fallen empires, we must recognize the things that are beneficial to our society and we must fight for them.

I’ve spent three years making a documentary that focuses on the world of classical music. It’s taken me to seven countries, dozens of cities, and inspired me to re-evaluate what it means to be American. I’ve been told countless times nobody will care about a film like this in America. I disagree. This is a story of pursuing excellence through hard work and determination, it’s the preservation of a diverse, yet universal language, and it’s the celebration of the freedom of self-expression. If that’s not American, I don’t know what is.


Article by David Donnelly

Original article on Huffpost Arts & Culture


Kristen Rencher, Social Media and Online Community Engagement Coordinator, February 13, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)