More on authenticity

I’ve gotten a lot of warm comments on my “Authenticity” post, and they’re inspiring me to say something further, something I should have thought through more carefully.

I was hasty, I think, in saying that the New York Philharmonic could have made its “Visions of the Beyond” more honest (more authentic) by arranging panel discussions, involving theologians, and so forth. Accessories are helpful, but still might not be convincing. The orchestra would have to do this for several years, most likely, before any large number of people believed they were serious.

And—far beyond that, but now getting to the heart of what authenticity means—who at the Philharmonic cares about these programs? The faux festival, as publicized, was clearly the invention of just a few people on the Philharmonic’s staff. But even if the project should continue for years, with convincing accessories, how many people would have been involved in planning it? I’d like to see the entire staff involved, plus the board, the musicians, and even the audience. I’d like to see all these people involved in the choice of intellectual or moral or spiritual or social problems to focus on. What issues would the musicians choose, for instance, if they were given a voice in the process? What issues would the audience choose?

Until everyone involved with an orchestra starts getting involved with projects like these, the projects will never be truly authentic. They’ll be top-down exercises, however well they’re carried out.

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That said, here’s a case of real authenticity—a press release from the Philadelphia Orchestra that arrived some weeks ago, announcing their “Raising the Invisible Curtain” initiative.

This project tries to remove barriers between the orchestra and the community, and also between the orchestra and its audience. Very tellingly, the press release didn’t focus (as so many do) on boilerplate comments from dignitaries (the music director, the board chairman, the executive director). Instead, it featured people directly involved with the work—the orchestra’s education director, Sarah Johnson; a spirited cellist, Gloria de Pasquale; and an inspiring consultant who worked very closely with the project, Eric Booth.

I know all these people; they’re all terrific. They all mean everything they say. And so for me, the press release was completely authentic. In itself, it raised an invisible curtain, in this case the curtain of PR verbiage that prevents us from seeing what the reality really is. It cut through all this, and introduced us to some of the people who make the project what it is. Bravo to all, and go here for a very similar introduction to the project on the orchestra’s website.

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