April 4, 2011

the death of a symphony

last week, syracuse symphony orchestra announced that it was canceling the remainder of its 2010-2011 season performances and laying off all 60+ musicians and most of its 20 staff members, effective yesterday. this came after several months of attempting a "save the music" campaign, which they hoped would close a financial gap of about $700,000. as of the shutdown date they had raised close to $600,000.

I have so many things to say about this, but most of my thoughts are incoherent. most importantly, the news is devastating. the SSO holds a very special place in my heart. in college, student rush tickets cost us $5. I went to easily half of the concerts in any given season. my friend tami and I felt like their biggest fans. we knew all the musicians by sight, including the section string musicians. we joked about how we wished there were trading cards we could buy. we were desperate to be better performers; we would leave and half-jokingly exclaim, "we're running out of time!!" as in, we're running out of time to get better, to practice, to make something of ourselves. very often we would go straight over to crouse college, the music building, and lock ourselves in practice rooms.

it's devastating, also, because I know many of the musicians personally. they were my teachers in college. in some cases, they were my friends. the librarian there, also a violist, is a colleague of mine. now all those people are out of their jobs, at least for the remainder of the season, if not forever.

I don't know what happened in the SSO to get to this place. management has been in negotiation with the musicians for months, but up until very recently those talks seemed like they were pretty successful; the musicians had agreed to a number of concessions, including a pay cut and a decrease in the number of full-time contracted players. the media reports that the cuts added up to about $700,000. yet somehow those concessions weren't enough. management came back and requested further cuts, and now they're blaming the SSO's fate on the failure of the musicians to accept the newest proposal, coupled with poor fundraising this season.

I don't care to get into the business of accusation, although I do think it's notable that in this case the musicians understood that they needed to make sacrifices and seemed to do so willingly in order to save the organization. I don't know what's happening in the books that made those sacrifices so inconsequential. I'm sure in the next few weeks a lot more information will come to light.

but there is something really important happening in this discussion. I'm sickened by it. I'm absolutely disgusted. it's this:

SSO board votes to suspend operations; season canceled, no refunds planned

April 02, 2011 at 9:39PM
solverx wrote:

April 03, 2011 at 7:42AM
bored329 wrote:
Taps" is a famous musical piece, sounded by the U.S. military nightly to indicate that it is "lights out".
Bye Bye

April 02, 2011 at 11:01PM
Slingblade wrote:
Bye Bye !! Get more funding from the limousine libs that listen to it

March 29, 2011 at 11:00PM
59 Bluesman wrote:
As I said before, who the hell decided that "classical" music was the only music anyone should hear? Who said it was better than rock, jazz, country or blues??? There is your elitist attitude. We don't "deserve" to listen to the SSO??? YEEE HAAAA!!!! Why should anyone that doesn't care about it have to pay for it??? SSO, go fund yourself!

April 04, 2011 at 6:17PM
time to give it up the FAT Lady has sung.
Bye bye.

March 30, 2011 at 1:24PM
acuser wrote:
Hey SSO, thanks from stealing from the people you so desperately begged for loose change. Time to find real jobs like the rest of us, band camp can only go on for so long.

March 29, 2011 at 9:46PM
2muchtax wrote:
SAD but it's all about the money - no union concessions. Maybe they should form a volunteer SSO and play for the gate or pass the hat since they want us all to have culture. No refunds - sounds like a last minute hit and run - maybe the State Atty General will investigate refunds. The eulogy reads "The Fat lady has Sung"?


I'm sorry I'm going on and on with these, but I can't help it. there are currently 279 comments on that article and I've read every single one of them. I want to tell myself that people who comment anonymously on the internet are pretty universally assholes, but in this case I know better. the majority of the comments on this story read like the ones above. people are fucking RELISHING the collapse of their wonderful arts organization. why? because of attitudes like this:

March 31, 2011 at 10:56AM
tonyb wrote:
Give it a rest. They can't support themselves because there aren't enough snooty people left to dress up in their finery and show themselves off. The rest of us don't want to pay for your overpriced toy. If you want to listen to classical music buy your self some CDs and sit down and listen to them, but please sit down and shut up give everyone else a break.

I read every single comment partially because I couldn't stop; it was like picking a scab. but I also did it because it feels important for me to understand this mentality. these beliefs are the enemy of organizations like the SSO -- and like mine. and they are everywhere. they permeate everything, particularly our politics. and it's a belief system that's self-sustaining. it goes something like this: intellectualism = elitism = you think you're better than me = bad. it's attitudes like this that are responsible for the loss of arts programs in schools, and the closure of libraries, and the collapse of orchestras like the syracuse symphony and baltimore opera. and without exposure to those libraries and music classes and arts institutions, young people don't experience what those institutions offer, don't understand them, and don't appreciate them later in life. they don't see the merits of those institutions, and so those institutions don't get funded.

I am struggling so hard to write about this. like I said before, my thoughts on this are really incoherent right now, and colored by emotion. after all, this is also what I do. there but for the grace of god goes my job. and these are people I love.

I get so mad I find myself near tears. the idea that people think these musicians are snooty and elitist, the idea that the symphony is like an overpriced toy; the forgotten reality that there are over eighty people losing their goddamned JOBS. there's this infuriating notion -- one I encounter a lot -- that if you love your job then you should be happy making less money, because after all that's so important! that's worth more than money, right?

I'd like to clue those people into something: Safeway doesn't take warm fuzzies as payment for your fucking groceries.

I have so much else to say on the subject but I just cannot. get. past. stuff. like. this.

March 29, 2011 at 11:13PM
tonyb wrote:
At least there will be one less group looking for taxpayer handouts and that is good. Did the country already kick in their part? The "no refunds" is the last "screw you" message from this arrogant group. Bye, bye. Don't get your tux tail or fur coat get caught in the door on your way out.

so thank the lord for people like this--

March 29, 2011 at 11:20PM
whatevernoway wrote:
Yeah I'm sure the $0.50 a year per citizen, or whatever it would have taken, that we won't have to spend collectively to fund a priceless cultural institution will do all us a great good during the recession. I would have driven out to give you two quarters to listen to a single concerto.

March 30, 2011 at 9:45PM
KJM2000 wrote:
You have just showed everyone more than you can possibly understand about yourself. How many hours a day do you practice after you come home from your "real job"? I'm sorry for you if you can't appreciate a symphony, but if you can't take time to enjoy it, why do you take time to put it down? They didn't "steal" from anyone. Remember those bailouts and bonuses in what was it...2008? Those are people with "real jobs" stealing. These ARE people with real jobs who work harder than you can imagine. Whatever your "real job" is, no one would care one bit if you were laid off, and I'm sure whatever you work on can be funded by something else. If whoever hired you went under, you wouldn't say the salary they paid you so far was "stealing" because you didn't continue your job without pay. I feel sorry for you that you can't appreciate art, I know you won't care one bit about that, and I'm sorry that, from the way you commented, you don't think you should be able to enjoy a "real job" as you seem to think that an orchestra musician's life is fun and games of "band camp". However, I can say that there is a good chance that I don't care one bit about the things you enjoy as we seem to be very different (what do you enjoy? Sports? Cars? are you a "music lover" of pop?) and, not that this would ever happen, if those things needed funding to stay afloat and were resorting to fundraisers and drives, I probably wouldn't help them. However I would at least have the common respect to understand that there are those who do enjoy them and because of that, their jobs are indeed "real jobs", even those of the football players you probably love to watch. I don't say that they are "stealing". Someday I hope you borrow money from a good friend and just don't have means to return it. If that friend is anything like you, you'll have lost a friend, and from what I can tell I fell even sorrier that you probably won't care.

March 30, 2011 at 6:42AM
cusegrad00 wrote:
They did give concessions and offered more. I think you were the one who said something about the blood content of stones. I love the thoughts of folks on here who think they should just play because they love music. They do love music; but love doesn't pay the bills. They are highly trained and skilled workers. Obviously right now, the support is not there. They should not be expected to support their family on puppy dogs and moonbeams. Anyone who ever dedicated to their life mastering a craft should at least be empathetic to their stance.

I have so many more things to say but my head is a jumble. let me just say this: last year, companies like GE and Bank of America managed to cook their books in such a way as to avoid paying US taxes altogether. The tax bill that Bank of America deferred is estimated at 1.9 billion dollars. The money from just that one year of taxes would fund my beloved opera company at their current yearly operating budget for 254 years.


  1. well, i will not try to placate you, as i am sure you are aware of all this, but it just baffles me that people would take time out of their day to 1. read something they so strongly disagree with, and 2. take more time to post something dickish after you have been so forthright and honest about your ideals. sadly, this argument has been out there since the 70s, or maybe happily since it hasn't collapsed yet. but, ignorance and fear of something new are the biggest factors keeping the whole of upstate ny in the dark ages, and most people are happy to go on hating and fearing things instead of branching out and learning something about themselves. i wish i had more to say, but it all gets lost in the vacuum of bitterness. good luck, and i'm with you.

  2. What confuses me even more is that popular culture, to which I must assume most of the negative commentators subscribe, absolutely idolizes any "classical" performance on shows such as "America's Got Talent", no matter how mediocre. But perhaps I misunderstand the appeal...

  3. As another violist in the SSO, thank you SO, SO much for this.