As a former band kid and a person who’s life to date has been strongly influenced by music, what’s happening with Orchestra London is heartbreaking. Participating in community jazz bands and orchestras turned me into who I am today because of the friends I made, the places I traveled to, the events I participated in, and the opportunity to work with others to create something bigger than ourselves. I have performed for school children, elderly citizens in nursing homes, in small towns in France, at community fundraising events, as part of the only Canadian group that year at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and on live national television in the presence of many dignitaries at a state funeral. I have seen many of the world’s top musicians perform in a number of different cities and countries, and on some occasions even had the chance to meet and/or work with some of them. But I’ve also had wonderful nights out at local venues with friends, and most importantly I remember the awe of being a young child and seeing a musical or theatrical performance, and wanting to be like the people on stage. Music, and cultural institutions in general, are important to communities in so many different ways, especially in ways that can and never will have a dollar value.
I’ve been drowning in end of semester papers lately so I haven’t read every single fact about what’s going on with Orchestra London but what I do know is that we have a tough choice to make. My heart says ‘save the orchestra whatever it takes’ but my mind says ‘we need to make an informed decision’. What that decision is? I’m not quite sure yet, and I think we need more information, particularly solid financial information, before the decision making process can begin. We deserve nice things, but more importantly we deserve accountable, responsible community leaders who make good decisions, whatever the outcome may be.
One thing that we have to keep in mind though is the difference between ‘saving’ the orchestra and simply enabling the troubles to go on for a bit longer. If we are truly going to save them then we need to do it properly; probably an overhaul of leadership, a solid and realistic plan moving forward, and a strong commitment from the community to put our money where our mouths are and support them. I have always wanted to but have never actually been to an Orchestra London performance, but I am publicly declaring that I will go to one within the next few months if that is still an option. Your commitment could be in the form of more significant financial support if that’s possible, volunteering your time, or simply buying a ticket to a performance. No matter what your contribution may be, if this organization is important that everybody claims them to be, you need to prove it. But most importantly, this commitment and support needs to be a real, viable one that will allow them to enhance our community for years to come, instead of just prolonging the need to face the real problems a little bit longer.
I am no financial expert and my journey into learning about the workings of the non-profit sector is still in its early days, but I am of the belief that not every non-profit organization can or should be entirely self-sustainable. However, there is a huge difference between being supported by grants, subsidies etc. and surviving on hope and bail outs, and from what I know it seems that Orchestra London has fallen into the second category.
I am well aware of how hard it is to fill a concert hall. I know how frustrating it can be when many remain ignorant of fantastic and long standing community cultural groups despite their best efforts and the support of many others. But I also know the feeling, from both the audience and the stage, of what music can bring to an individual and a community. We can’t rely on our hearts to make this decision, realistic and smart financial considerations are crucial moving forward, but I encourage Londoners to come up with a solution that finds the best possible balance between finances, culture and community.