Some people 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 an article entitled Orchestra and Community: Bridging the Gap, McPhee states ‘’The mere existence of an orchestra in a community does not contribute to the community’s vitality. Communities need vibrant, relevant orchestras that give meaning to people’s lives.”
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 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. 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. 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 orchestra’s responsibility to its community is not limited to only serving up music either. An orchestra is a leader in demonstrating value and giving. Highly unique in its approach to volunteerism, orchestras set the standard for volunteering. An orchestra can help a community cope with the stress and pressure of change, by using music as a tool to teach and bring about the experience of harmony. An effective orchestra brings to its community, musicians who are experts in expressing the complexities, movements, and contradictions of life in terms that are normally inexpressible, yet when heard and experienced are instantly recognized, often providing their listeners with an inspiration that lasts a lifetime. 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. With its unique ability to bridge the gap in a community, an orchestra can be a strong catalyst for community improvement.
An orchestra gives meaning to our lives, and in the ears, minds, and hearts of most people, that’s valuable.
The Power of the Orchestra
Mark Walter, President – Bedford Common Orchestra, Virginia USA