Thoughts on “Talking About Community”

In this post, Neil Harris reflects on the American Orchestra Forum: Talking About Community event that took place on October 23.

Now, almost two weeks after participating in the panels at Davies Hall, some reflections on that experience. First, it was exhilarating to see so many people interested in the health of the American orchestra, brimming with insightful observations. I wish there had been more time for the audience members on Sunday to have posed more questions or made additional comments, but the larger conversation was certainly encouraging, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Second, I was impressed with the energy of the audiences, both at the Verdi Requiem concert by the San Francisco Symphony on Saturday night, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Sunday night. The enthusiasm both for the performances and for the contemporary music played Sunday was impressive.

Third, the issues raised in the panels suggest the longevity of dilemmas facing orchestras—along with opera associations, theater groups, museums—in this country. While this is not necessarily reassuring, it does indicate that contemporaries are not the first to encounter challenges in selecting repertories, teaming up with educational institutions, relying on promotional and advertising campaigns, exploiting personalities, and coming up with ingenious solutions to expand audience and become more inclusive. Solutions inevitably will change, problems endure. So the demonstrable enthusiasm for working things out is encouraging. But it seems to me that, at present, solutions which are foundational in character—encouraging more young people to learn how to play musical instruments and read music, multiplying performance events which have some elements of inter-action, pushing forward opportunities for school involvement with rehearsals and concerts—make most sense.

— Neil Harris

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