A Positive Note-Things Aren’t as bad as you think! An interview with Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)
by Melissa Trier Kirk, Lyric Opera Orchestra violist. As published in the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Newsletter and Website.
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). Bruce, a bassist with the North Carolina Symphony and tireless advocate for the arts, has been travelling the country this summer, talking with musicians and spreading the positive news that charitable giving to the arts is at an all time high, and that many orchestras have emerged from the economic downturn of 2008 stronger than ever. This news runs counter to conventional wisdom, since what we often hear in the press is that U.S. orchestras are floundering and classical music is dying. Bruce’s message is that symphony and opera orchestras are more relevant than ever. Every year about this time he creates a list of positive developments for orchestras.
What inspired you to become an arts advocate?
Music fundamentally changed my life. My mother had a vinyl record collection that wasn’t so large but huge in variety including many classical recordings. As a child I had a terrible speech impediment and found school difficult. I loved the Beatles tune, “I Am the Walrus” which begins with classically hypnotic cello and bass lines, and Rachmaninoff ‘s “Variations on a Theme by Paganini”. In training my ear to replicate the music I was hearing I was able to overcome my speech impediment. Studies show that studying music as a child keeps students in school and improves mental health for folks well into their 80’s. My personal experience made me realize how critically important the arts are and that music is a force for good and beauty.
Why do you say that orchestras are more relevant than ever?
Symphony Orchestras build communities. Imagine the number of school children that the musicians of ICSOM reach on a daily basis. What I am seeing is that symphony orchestras are more necessary than ever. It is the nature of the press to write a negative story because that’s what sells. In 1970, UPI published a piece which predicted that 25 American orchestras were doomed to die. Today they are all still in business. The story that needs to be told especially coming out of the recession is how resilient American Orchestras are and how well they have survived. We rarely study our successes. Yes, some orchestras fail. According to American Express, 90% of new restaurants fail in their first year of business but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to eat! The fact is that charitable giving to the arts is at an all time high. In 2014, charitable giving to the arts was the fastest growing category of giving in America.
Talk more about the resilience you are seeing.
Many orchestras are thriving and advancing. The Cincinnati Symphony added $26 million to the endowment and will add 14 new musicians to the roster in the next few years. The simple fact is that people will give to organizations that inspire them and they don’t give to organizations that question their own sustainability. Orchestras that are putting out a positive message about what they mean to their community are seeing tremendous growth. People say that our audiences are aging, but the Cleveland Orchestra has doubled the number of students attending concerts in the past couple of years. They’ve done this by reaching out, inviting them in and creating a more appealing atmosphere. An organization that says it’s going to be around for along time serving its community into the future is far more likely to attract donations and audience members. No arts organization or business has ever solved its financial problems by offering an inferior product. Cutting and lowering our presence in the community doesn’t help.
Click here to read the entire interview at Chicagolyricoperaorchestra.com