By Dennis Bubert, Trombonist of the Fort Worth Symphony, March 3, 2016.
Why the arts? Or, more specifically, given all of the ink spilled over our ongoing contract negotiations, why do the arts matter, here, now, in Fort Worth, Texas?
After all, the arts are expensive, unwieldy to manage, and unlike the whimsies of popular culture, demand discernment and aesthetic engagement from the audience. We’re repeatedly told that audiences for symphonic music are disappearing, there’s an insurmountable competition from other entertainments, and that our increasingly visual society is staying home from the concert hall.
As someone who has practiced the art of orchestral playing as a livelihood for close to four decades, I can attest that none of these claims are new, and some of them simply may not be true.
In some ways, the state of the arts has never been stronger. This February, some 28,000 Texas music students and educators convened in San Antonio for the Texas Music Educators Association’s annual conference. In the coming weeks, several thousands of those students will audition for entrance into music programs at Texas colleges and universities, where the arts are alive and well, if not thriving. On the campus where I teach, some two thousand of the 35,000 students enrolled are pursuing degrees in the fine arts. Often despite their parents’ wishes, their friends’ advice, economic realities, and all common sense, these young people are investing their time, money, and lives in the pursuit of communicating the human condition through their individual disciplines. Whether they express themselves through sound, movement, letters, the dramatic portrayal of human emotion or the visual arrangement of line, color and spatial weight, they are committing their efforts and resources to immersing themselves in the interpretation of what it truly means to be human, to think and to feel. In so doing, their awareness becomes sensitized to subtleties, to nuance, and to the ambiguity of life. They learn to see life in subtly different shades of grays rather than the black and whites the absolutists of this world propose as the only possible choices. Through the travails of their education, they see life as a process, an opportunity for growth, awareness and acceptance.
Ultimately, they gradually come to believe that learning is a process that is never completed, and that their own growth is dependent on their continued pursuit of their art, whatever their endeavor. How could I hope to surround myself with better people?
And it’s not just the performers and practitioners who hear the siren call of a personal muse. I’ve met hundreds of our FWSO patrons in recent years, and their stories have been a remarkable accounting of how much the orchestra means to them, and the extraordinary degree to which symphonic music matters in their lives.I met a couple that have been season ticket holders since 1981, and during that time have not missed a single subscription concert.
Another couple, which described themselves as “faithful Fort Worth Symphony concert goers,” routinely drive from their home in Kansas City to attend concerts.
And perhaps my favorite encounter: a woman who had been a life long season ticket holder to the Boston Symphony before her move to Fort Worth several years ago told me that she was worried about what kind of offerings she might find on the classical music front upon her arrival in Texas, a concern shared aloud by her friends and family in Boston. “Now,” she told me, “I can’t wait for them to visit me so that I can take them to hear my orchestra!”
These remarks, and the hundreds heard by my colleagues during our exchanges with FWSO patrons, as well as countless supportive letters,
e-mails, and Facebook postings, have been not only a much needed boost for the orchestra, but a real dose of a reality that is all too often ignored, refuted, or otherwise denied. And that is this: what we do matters, it matters to a great many people, and it apparently matters a great deal to them.
That the arts in general have always struggled with funding is old news; the current message seems to be that there is a new reality in which the arts have declining value and perhaps less validity, and that as musicians we are not only somehow to blame, but must be first in line to pay the price for what some clearly want us to see as the inevitable decline and subsequent failure of the American symphony orchestra.
Don’t believe it. And don’t try to sell that idea to the thousands of patrons who have expressed their support for the orchestra over the past several months, or those who filled Bass Hall last week to hear Joshua Bell at the Symphony’s gala. Or the 40,000 school children we play for each season, or their teachers, or the couple who drive from Kansas City to hear concerts, or the woman from Boston who has found a new orchestra of which to be a proud patron.
I know that the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will, in the coming months, continue to do that to which they have given their lives and dedicated their careers: bring great scores to life, and create transcendent moments for our audiences, who both appreciate and need those experiences in their own lives.
Read this article and more on the Newsletter of the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony.