Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: A Model Community Resource
If you believe, as I do, that for orchestras to continue to survive and thrive, they have to be true community resources--they need to make connections to their community that go beyond giving subscription concerts, no matter how good those concerts are--the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra may be a model for our field. I spent two days with them in early October, and came away invigorated, stimulated, and filled with visions of how orchestras can accomplish this. The ASO is an integral part of so much of Atlanta that it is, in truth, a genuinely important resource for all of Atlanta...
It would take far too much space to go into a lot of detail here, but I'll try to summarize. In 1996, the ASO formed the Outreach Taskforce to design community programs; this cross-constituency group included board members, staff, and musicians. In 2005, the ASO combined its education and community engagement departments into a Department of Education and Community Engagement, also known as the Learning Community. They brought in outside experts to re-think the vision of their education and engagement work. They developed two senior positions that would share responsibility for education activities in the community: a Director for Learning Development, and an ASO Community Catalyst. Both report to the VP for the Learning Community. They have an enormous number of programs in both areas, education and community engagement, many of which overlap. There are workshops, in-school master classes, Boys & Girls Club after school music program, the Latin American Association After-School Strings Program, United Way programs, Symphony Street Concerts, a youth orchestra, adult education programs, neXt Generation Concerts, and more. About 80 percent of their musicians volunteer time for these programs. The musicians I spoke with were intensely proud of their community work. I cannot summarize these programs here in a brief report, but I have not encountered as broad and deep a series of programs and community relationships anywhere.
One program that deserves mention is the Talent Development Program--TDP--designed to develop classical music talent among young Latino and African American students. TDP prepares students for conservatory/college level study by providing instruction, mentoring, performance opportunities, and complimentary admission to ASO concerts. A scholarship fund assists TDP students who wish to attend summer music training programs, such as the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Since 1993 more than 70 students have enrolled in TDP, the majority of them choosing to pursue a career in music. The ASO states in its overview of the program: "The TDP addresses the need to create a broader talent pool of well-trained, diverse musicians who are qualified to audition for major professional orchestras in the United States." The program began in 1993 with just a few musicians; it now has 25 African-American and Latino students from the Atlanta metropolitan area.
There is, throughout the organization, a sense of openness of communication, and a sense of enormous value placed on the orchestra's relationships with a wide range of community organizations and community partners. One hears this from musicians, board leaders, administrative staff, and Music Director Robert Spano. Every subject seems open to discussion and examination, and there is a phenomenal sense of energy around these programs.
The concert I heard also showed the ASO to be in terrific shape--the "Queen Mab" scherzo in Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet (they played the orchestral scenes) is a notoriously difficult piece, and it was played with astonishing delicacy and clarity and precision. All in all, my two days with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra provided me with an enormous optimism about where we are heading in the world of American orchestras.
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