Problem: You’re involved with a classical music organization, maybe a big one. And even though you might describe your institution as “a vital community cultural resource” (to quote one orchestra’s website), you know that once you get beyond the “cultural” part of that — which basically means the contribution that you make to the community with your music — you don’t have all that much to offer. You sense that you’re not a vital part of the community when other issues — non-musical issues — might arise.
Solution: Do something for the environment.
I’m writing this on Earth Day. The main news section of the New York Times has three full-page environmental ads, from Macy’s, Starbuck’s, and the BBC. Macy’s website, on its home page, suggests you ride your bike or walk to work, and offers a link to a Macy’s Earth Week celebration, where you can get environmental tips, and learn what Macy’s is doing for the cause. The IBM home page prominently asks if you’ve recycled all your old computers, offering a link to an environmental page that tells you how to do so, with further links to pages like this one, which offers an entire green campaign, with the slogan “Good for business. Good for the planet.”
And of course there’s more. The New York Mets are building a new stadium. It’s going to be green, says the team, built almost completely from recycled steel, and with a green roof over the administrative offices, plus other green initiatives. Major League Baseball has its own green initiative, the Team Greening Program. The Pittsburgh Pirates have an environmental program; the San Francisco Giants generate electricity with solar panels.
And what do classical music institutions do? Nothing I’ve ever heard of. Which doesn’t mean that nobody is doing anything — that would just about defy belief — but certainly we don’t hear a lot about this. Have any of the new concert halls boasted that they’re green? Not that I’ve heard of. The Nashville Symphony’s page for their new Schermerhorn Symphony Center says not a word about anything environmental. The LA Philharmonic’s site says nothing green about Disney Hall.
And sure, some — a lot? — of the corporate environmental stuff is hype. A computer newsletter I get, “PC World Daily Tech News,” asks “Are Big High-Tech Companies Green Hypocrites?” The baseball initiatives have been questioned, as the articles I linked to show. (They generate huge amounts of carbon playing night games.) Back in January, the New York Times reported that the FTC was asking whether corporations really did offset their carbon footprints, after saying that they’d done so.
But classical music organizations don’t even take phony stands (if that’s what the corporations are really doing). I’ve blogged about this before, and asked the American Symphony Orchestra League (as it was called back then) if any major orchestras had ever tried to offset the carbon dioxide they generate when they tour. I never got an answer.
So that’s my solution to a community relations problem — take a stand on the environment, and do something about it. It’s just about expected, these days, and it’s almost shocking (when you think about it for a while) that classical music organizations don’t seem to know this.
Footnote: Maybe this is related to something else, the way people who aren’t classical music initiates (especially if they’re young) can be surprised that big classical music institutions don’t do anything for charity. Pop stars do, after all. The almost indignant answer from the institutions is that, hey, they’re charities!
But this doesn’t wash. From the outside, big classical music institutions look like they’re rolling in money. From the inside, they often enough can barely pay their bills, but still their whole presentation (I’m talking about major orchestras, big opera companies, and major concert halls) is lavish.
So they ought to do something for charity. I once privately advised an orchestra about this, suggesting that, since they wanted to raise more money from subscribers, it would help to work for charity themselves, so they’d create an atmosphere of giving. I’ve heard they’ve done this, with some success. One way, it seemed to me, would be to stress the charitable work of individual musicians, and also to join in community-wide fundraising efforts.
But each institution can figure this out individually. Just so they do something!