The Symphony Slide

By Derek Gleeson. (Own work.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra members took a $14,000 pay-cut to end their season-long lock out. Recently, the world-renowned, multi-Grammy-award-winning orchestra has been forced into yet another lock-out, after increasing disputes between the orchestra’s board and its musicians over a $2 million deficit. The orchestra is simply not receiving enough entrepreneurial or public support: it is expecting only $100,000 in taxpayer funds this year (compared to the $1 million in support the Minnesota orchestra, another recently locked-out orchestra, is expecting).

Robert Spano, music director of Atlanta Symphony, spoke out in favor of the musicians, which is a rare occurrence for conductors. Spano said, “This is a dire and critical juncture for the city of Atlanta, which is in danger of losing the flagship of its culture…If the 10th-largest urban economy in America is incapable of sustaining its cultural jewel, what does that signal about our country?”

People in major cities like Atlanta are not running out of money to fund classical music, but rather are choosing to spend it on other genres of music instead. Beyoncé made an average of $2.4 million per city on her most recent tour, whereas a section musician in a top-five symphony orchestra is expected to make an annual base salary of roughly $70,000.

Why is there sufficiently more public expenditure for pop-music over classical music? Pop-music promotes an “in-the-moment” lifestyle—for example, over-drinking to the point of forgetfulness. Classical music promotes self-reflection, understanding history, and hard work. The ideals of modern society and pop-culture do not run parallel to the ideals of classical music. Modernity does not value the intelligence and integrity of the classical arts outside of museums, concert halls, and classrooms.

What does this say about the direction of our culture? How will this affect the future generations of elite leaders who hold philanthropic power?

Over the past decade, and for the first time in history, our country has faced a number of orchestral lock-outs. The problem is, neither the public nor symphony board members know how to respond. The board of the Atlanta Symphony is so fixed on finding a long-term solution to the orchestra’s financial troubles, that even though individuals were willing to donate up to $800,000 to help deplete the deficit, the board would not end the lock-out. There is a lack of focus on the short-term, and most important, the task at hand: getting struggling orchestras, like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, back up and running.

Unlike Atlanta, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra has recently executed non-traditional fundraising methods to keep operating. The orchestra launched a series of concerts under the name “Classically Cannabis: The High Notes Series,” which utilized the recent legalization of marijuana to inspire more young people to come to the concerts. This political maneuver proved quite effective, raising over $50,000 in just three concerts.

How far will orchestras have to go in order to raise interest and money? And no, money and the arts cannot be separated into two polarized entities unwilling to co-exist and cooperate. Perhaps this is the problem. Entrepreneurs, artists, elite board members, serve workers, and labor unions all need to respect and empathize with one another because ultimately, they are all fighting for the firm belief that amidst modernity, classical music and the ideals it instills must continue to be a part of culture in this country.