From a Civic Youth Orchestra parent

The Future of Classical Music in America

Over the last five months, I have been listening to various arguments from different parties about the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I am a classically trained music lover, parent of an aspiring musician, DSO Civic Youth Ensemble (CYE) parent, DSO supporter and long time patron, and a huge fan of the quality of music delivered by the musicians of the Detroit Symphony. I am also a foreign national married to an American, living in the U.S., with music training in two totally different cultures.

I have been contacted by quite a number of different parties with pleas of support. I am writing now with a plea for UNITED support. I think that perhaps with all of the small conflicts that have occurred in the past five months, we might be beginning to lose perspective of the “bigger” question.

Personally, I feel that the issue that is really being put to the test is “What do people see in the future of Classical or Symphonic music in America?” Is it an art form of the past that we are no longer interested in? Was it never really part of American culture and really something more European? Is it only enjoyed by the “upper class”?

I know that different people have varied opinions, but if the answer is truly that “America is no longer interested in Classical music”, it would be pretty sad. Regardless of its roots, looking at Classical music from a foreigner’s perspective, I think that there is something very special about Classical music in America. While Classical music may seem rigid compared to other genres of music, there is still quite a bit of room within the music for individuality. The freedom of expression in the American culture combined with the dynamic that perhaps comes from the richness of the nature and land in this country, adds color, volume and tone that can only be achieved in this country. There have also been great symphonic compositions created in America.

Even if Classical is not your favorite genre or your objective genre as a student, there are many aspects of classical training that are invaluable no matter what your discipline in music, never mind that many other genres of music were influenced by Classical music. There are plenty of “Cinderella Stories” in music even though they may not get as much media attention as the sports athletes, and while these musicians do not always become Classical Musicians, many of them are touched by Classical music at some point in their development.

The difficulty with the situation with the Detroit Symphony is that there will be long term effects that may or may not be recoverable after a dramatic change like what is being proposed. For those who have ever pursued any field of study beyond a certain depth, you probably realized that the more we know, the more we become aware of how much more there is to it. We also find out that knowledge of some of the foundations that are rooted in the “classical” training of a discipline are necessary in order to truly appreciate and expand on the newer knowledge. It takes a high level of experience and education to reach that level of appreciation and it can’t be done overnight, nor can we find “masters” that have that kind of experience and training to help “retrain” a generation that did not have exposure to such “masters” quickly and easily. As difficult as this may be at an individual level, imagine the work that would be needed to further expand this to a group of highly skilled musicians playing together producing high quality music.

Furthermore, when you put professionals like those who have been dedicated to performing at a high quality level in the kind of predicament that the DSO Management is proposing to do, you are basically disrespecting the whole profession, discipline, training, etc. You are lowering morale. Who would want to work under management like that? How could you continue to work under such management? If they all get upset and leave, who will train the next generation of musicians? If the management has a history of mistreating their veteran players, why would any potential talented new hire feel secure about his career with such management and be willing to be employed?

This may sound like an extreme analogy, but there are never any winners of wars, and only innocent victims. I don’t care how hard either party tries not to involve the innocent, over time there is just no way it can be avoided.

For example, my son is a member of the Civic Youth Orchestra. I have seen statements that they have tried very hard not to affect the young students. First of all, my son studies with a DSO musician, so there is no avoiding that effect. He is given talks by the CYE staff about how everything with CYE is fine, but he gets there and there are papers taped to the glass doors indicating that no member of the DSO including the librarian is permitted to enter the building while the negotiations are not settled. So along with other discomforts, he goes to his first concert wondering if the DSO musician parents of the students of CYE would be permitted to come hear their children play.

We purchased tickets for performances that we thought would be highly educational for him. So far, several of them have already been canceled.

He was just getting excited about the prospect of possibly pursuing music as a professional career and looking up to his teacher and deciding what a great thing it would be if he could follow in his footsteps and possibly one day be part of the next generation of DSO musicians. He worked hard for his audition in the Spring because he wanted to join the group that has opportunities to work with DSO musicians during rehearsals.

We as parents have been told that there is a new fund earmarked for “Education” that CYE can access, and donate so that the funds would be there to pay for mentoring by the DSO musicians and possibly even a Concerto Competition. However, the musicians aren’t even permitted to enter the building. One by one the students of CYE are being denied opportunities they were originally promised, and now even the students’ and the parents’ security is somewhat at stake during rehearsals because of cuts and lack of activity in the Orchestra Hall area.

The bottom line is that as a community we are all interdependent. No matter which way we dice it and slice it, when all is said and done, we either as a group have what we want or do not. The economy is down, and life is tough for all of us … at least this time, I think it is safe to say that it has affected every sector of society in some way or another, even those in the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Yes, any musical group is part of the entertainment industry which perhaps could be considered not as life critical as some other things … like food, shelter, heat and health care. We could sit here and argue the value of comforting the soul and lifting the spirits of people so that they can overcome this difficult time, but even without those arguments, I think it is safe to say that letting go of a World Class Orchestra is not something we can recover from in a timely manner. It is also probably safe to say that therefore it will have an impact on the future of Classical Music in Michigan. Because of how this will affect morale among a group of fairly tight knit professionals, it is probably also safe to say that it will affect the future of Classical Music in America.

I would like to think that the people in the DSO Management themselves care about Classical and or Symphonic Music in America enough that this would bother them. I am hoping that perhaps somehow with all of the emotions of the conflict and the troubled economy, they lost track of the impact that their proposal or their lack of acceptance of the alternate proposals put forth may have on the music community in general. If it is indeed that they don’t share our concerns, it is time to replace the management staff with people who have a better appreciation for quality music in America.

As I stated in the opening of my letter, I communicate with a fairly large number of people spanning multiple interests, and from all of the discussions that I have had, I know that everyone that appreciates high quality music both local in Michigan and elsewhere share my concerns. And for all and anyone else who also cares, let us all stand united to protect the future of music in America.

Download Original Letter (pdf, 34.2 KB)


Comments: 3

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  • Mary Ann, Livonia

    What a wonderfully thoughtful letter. Thank you for expressing what classical music, and the classical musicians who play it, really mean to all of us-young and old. If the DSO Board doesn’t believe there is a place for classical music now, here in this City, then why are they on the Board?

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  • David

    Thank you for an excellent viewpoint!

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