Symphony of the Kootenays

Forgive me but I think the audience may have missed the major thrust of the president’s message at the recent special board meeting of the Symphony of the Kootenays.

It’s not a question of if the appropriate grants have been applied for? or are there untapped sources of money out there?

I think his point (among many) – Is it ethical to take money from whatever sources to subsidise concerts that only attract an audience of 250 people – that’s nearly a $100/head for performances that people have voted with their feet by walking away. I agree with him. At $23,000 per concert I think we could get a much bigger bang for our classical music buck with a different approach. For the cost of one concert you could probably run a full season of creative chamber music. I have been to a significant number of adventurous chamber music concerts over the past few years that have been self produced at an almost insignificant cost by the artists involved. Having said that those concerts, by and large, have also been poorly attended. The exception might be the magnificent SELKIRK TRIO a couple of weeks back. But at least the artist(s) is taking the risk, developing adventurous programming and getting the music out there. I think our energies could be better directed away from the symphony to the artists out there bucking the trends trying to create their own audiences. What we need is a Chamber Music Society to support creative music and the artists who are trying to make a difference. That would be time better spent than trying to refurbished a symphony society.

Second point is that audiences have the ability to hand pick and customise their own entertainment agenda. That is a recent development and one that is going to continue unabated. This is particularly applicable to classical music. For example it is possible to buy the complete Bach catalogue on CD for $150 – that’s 150 CDs , less than a buck a CD. I have actually seen this particular box set on sale for $100. I know people say it’s not the same thing as a live performance and while that may be true I contend that on CD you have access to the great orchestras, great artists, the great interpretations, etc. Over and above that a live performance is a bonus. As the chairperson of Archiv Music recently stated “we are living in a golden era of recorded classical music”. What is available out there is astonishing. The record companies have huge inventories of state of the art recordings accumulated over the past 40 years and they are releasing them at extraordinarily cheap prices. Even iTunes cannot compete with that.

Third point – demographics. The average age of the people in the room that night must be approaching at least 60 or even older. So its not a question of funding it is a question of demographics. People under the age of 40 do not attend classical, jazz or any concerts of seriously creative music. Watering down the programs is not going to change that. The fact of the matter is that people have forgotten how to listen to live music. There is a different ethos involved and it is one that needs to be learned. It is not only creative music that is suffering. It is happening right across the musical spectrum. In Cranbrook there is no longer a public music scene. That disappeared ages ago. Musicians have retreated from public view and live music is a thing for private enjoyment in small gatherings of musicians playing for their peers and friends. In that setting there is some pretty incredible music being played in the area.

An additional point I would like to make is that the spiralling upwards of costs is only just beginning. The cost of transport alone has probably risen by over 30% in the past 5 years and will probably double in the next five. If a touring rock band going from town to town and playing bars is unable to recover costs what chance is there for an orchestra of 15-20 symphony musicians.

As I said at the meeting I think Hans and the board have been incredibly brave to get up and say what needed to be said to an audience that is so emotionally attached to the idea of a symphony orchestra that they didn’t want to hear the unvarnished truth. I don’t think it is a case of grit your teeth, overcome the obstacles and the orchestra will survive. There has been a paradigm shift in just about every aspect of modern life and we need to make appropriate adjustments.

In my opinion, the symphony, maybe, can survive this present storm but it is only a matter of time before the inevitable conclusion is reached. Let’s recognize it and move on.

– Rod Wilson

1 thought on “Symphony of the Kootenays

  1. Hi Rod

    Just discovered your Blog….

    I have read your article on the Symphony and agree totally. Although the idea of a symphony is a good one, it is simply not sustainable. I have worked with them before and know first hand that many come from outside the region so travel costs etc. are a large factor in the cost of production. If the musicians were all local maybe it would work but travel and city union rates for musicians makes it a non starter. The money would be better spent else where!

    Keep it up…

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