The Rome Symphony Orchestra recently warned that it may have to reduce the number of concerts in its 2013-14 season from the previous level of 5 or 6 (plus a recent two public free performances for Christmas and the Fourth of July) to a possible two unless additional support appears by way of attendance growth and business/corporate sponsorships.
This is not a unique situation. The lingering economic impact of the Great Recession that began in 2008 has caused many similar orchestras and cultural enterprises to pare back alarmingly on their offerings or even, in some case, disband.
To which, no doubt, those for whom “culture” means hip-hop, zombie movies and Honey Boo Boo will respond: Who cares?
Well, in the case of Greater Rome and its “sales pitch” in wooing investment/residential interest from the outside world, the answer should be: Everybody.
The fact that Rome not only has a symphony orchestra but also that it is the oldest (and hence first) in the entire South has become an omnipresent highlight in about every informational brochure/guide to the area. Trumpeting that Rome is quite unusual in cultural refinements — and it is what with also having live theater, four colleges and more — is a supporting pillar of all local promotion.
IT SETS this area off as being “sophisticated” in a Georgia that many still view — sadly and wrongly, of course — as defined by the images etched into movie-viewer minds by “Deliverance” and similar. Not only that, but Rome attained “civilization” even before Atlanta, whose own more-famous orchestra was founded some 24 years later in 1945.
By the way, for those who have never attended or for whom such music is “not their cup of sweet tea,” this is a remarkably good small orchestra of which Greater Rome can really be proud ... and long has been.
No, they’re not going to defeat Atlanta, which is made up of full-time professional musicians while Rome has part-timers, in any “battle of the symphonies.” However, they’re more than adequate and typically provide an enjoyable audience experience while paying considerable attention in programming to mixing the very familiar with compositions that may well be new and novel to many in attendance. This season’s remaining concerts are scheduled for Feb. 23, April 27, June 8 and July 4. Go hear for yourselves.
Most disturbing, any threat to either the continued existence of the RSO, or a diminishing of its role in the community, threatens the fairly accurate image of Rome being a place to settle (and do business) that is quite different from many existing stereotypes. That is a big edge that Rome cannot afford to lose.
IN THE CASE of the RSO, it reported taking a $180,000 loss on its supporting pillar of investments back in 2008. In other words, its 401(k) equivalent, like those of most Greater Romans, took a really heavy hit. And while concert/season tickets represent a real bargain for lovers of classical music —and an unusual opportunity in a community of this size to hear such “live” — an easy guess is that “packed houses” (meaning the City Auditorium performance hall) have become less routine.
Since then, to keep going it has been tightening its belt —again, much like a lot of area citizens and their governments. It reports voluntary salary cuts to a very small staff, selecting repertoire that requires fewer musicians (they’re paid by performance, not salaried), fewer performances and fewer rehearsals (for which musicians are also paid), plus reductions in printing/mailing — meaning promotion.
With the cost of putting on a single concert given as between $15,000 to $17,000, it is not hard to figure how much additional support is currently required to keep about three or four concerts a year from being whacked. Plainly those individuals and corporations/businesses who not only love music but also understand the image values of having a community orchestra need to rally to this cause because, frankly, they are all that many things both cultural and otherwise beneficial to this community have.
IN THIS COUNTRY even musical forms forever linked with the national image of creativity — jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk and so forth — have zero way of being perpetuated other than through consumer support or nonprofit zeal.
In an increasingly visible sense, many art and entertainment forms have come to depend upon “what we can afford” after all the beer and football possible have been consumed. Increasing consumers for other selections, including those considered cultural, is pretty difficult if members of the public do not have exposure to additional options. Nobody would eat chocolate if they thought only honey existed.
That reflects what such as the symphony orchestra tries to do — and some may well wish that there were a local and annual bluegrass concert series in addition. Rome thus is lucky that way; its consumers still have an opportunity to expand some of their horizons because options are not only known but also available.
Therefore, at the instant moment and in recognition that a big chunk of Greater Rome’s positive overall image is linked to having somehow allowed some of the “finer things in life” to survive and flourish, there’s an important immediate matter to consider.
AT THIS moment it is time for Greater Romans, and all those within earshot who love such, to pick up the attendance/funding baton and signal the Rome Symphony Orchestra to keep playing as well, and as often, as it can.