Monday, November 17, 2014

Eddie's Attic Celebrates The End of the Lockout!

Allons enfants de la patrie 
(Come, children, let's go to the party!) 

Sunday, Nov. 23 from 5:00 pm until ? 

It's time to show your appreciation for the ASO's triumphant return to Symphony Hall! And the 10th Annual Chamber Music Marathon at Eddie's Attic is the place! 

All of us who have attended the musicians' community concerts during the lockout know first hand that the ASO is more than just a collection of symphony orchestra performers. These are highly skilled players, masters of the symphonic form, who also happen to be passionate about all forms of classical music ... and especially chamber music.  Because the players are deeply invested in the future of classical music in Atlanta, they are constantly searching for new and exciting ways to promote and share their love of chamber music in unexpected places ... including very cool clubs like Eddie's Attic.

The Chamber Music Marathon at Eddie's Attic is a popular tradition ... mainly because it bridges the distance between stage and the audience.  You'll hear virtuoso playing, you'll interact with the players, and best of all, get to know each player's artistry.  This is a unique, personal experience you cannot have in Symphony Hall.

Eddie's Attic is a superior 'listening' club, with excellent acoustics ... and is historically known as the place where Live Music Matters!  They also have a great bar, restaurant service, and a terrific wait staff.  And what live concert would be complete without an adult beverage, a dynamite burger and a chance to pour out your feelings about the lockout to a sympathetic crowd?

Come join us!  Here's the ticket link: Eddie's Attic 11/23 Chamber Music Marathon Tickets.

**** PLAYER UPDATE 11/22:   
Tomorrow night will be an amazing party! Come meet your friends at Eddie's ... We're United by Music! That means the Lockout can't 'officially end' until we all drink a toast to its demise, stick a viking helmet on it, put it in a boat, set it on fire, and send it out to sea. Let's close the chapter on pillaging and looting ... and open a brand new book: The ASO Moves Forward!'

Reserve a table ... bring your friends ... and get your party on!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Lockout Is Over! Here's How You Can Help Now!


There are exciting developments happening at SOSA! Those who have joined Save Our Symphony Atlanta's Facebook page to get news and express support for the orchestra will soon be asked if they'd like to put those convictions to work.   

The new Save Our Symphony Atlanta blog, to which the Facebook page will direct traffic, will start building a support base through a contact addy on the blog; you sign up to become a member and get regular alerts.  

The ASOC Singers and Friends Blog will be a featured link ... along with Mask of the Flower Prince, Song of the Lark, The Robbie Report. The SOSA blog will have its resources in a permanent menu, making them easy to find, as they won't drop off the page like on Facebook.  The inclusion of our blog will increase our SEO.  The big advantage with the new SOSA blog is that it is off-Facebook, and can be linked to other blog sites around the world. Since the posting of the WAC petition, our numbers have climbed dramatically, because we're linked to that petition.  

ASOC Members are insiders.  With our fantastic writers, upcoming RS film, Grammy nominations -- not to mention our position as 'WAC Watchdogs' (c.2012) -- we are a unique resource.  We need to do some thinking about contributions which will soon have a much wider audience.  


Please take a look at the following issues, and consider contributing research, information, or writing a piece for posting here on the ASOC blog.  This isn't an exhaustive list by any means.  It is my hope that through all the social media outlets -- which were formed and are still dedicated to preserving the financial and artistic future of the ASO -- we can start to explore constructive and interesting ways of building the orchestra's profile in the community.  To do this, we need to explore issues which affect ASO and ASOC in particular, and classical symphonic arts in general.  

  • The 'lock-out life-boat' tenor of this blog and the chorus FB page will be modified by other urgent messages, which are about supporting the ASO back in the concert hall. We will continue to help promote ticket sales to ASO concerts. 
  • The donor question -- 'What happens when I send my money to ASO or WAC?' --  will have to be carefully examined, because the WAC needs to raise money, too, in order to fulfill its contractual obligations to the orchestra. There are good reasons why donors need to contribute to the ASO -- and scary reasons for them not to.  An exploration into WAC's debt history must contain a demand for transparency now, if contract terms and 'best efforts' are to be achieved.  Through the ASOC blog site, we currently help steer private donations to whatever recipient the donor wishes to help: ASOPA and/or ATL Symphony Musicians Foundation; we can still do this.  
  • We will continue to disseminate information to various concerned groups through email campaigns (commissioners, officials, arts groups, teachers, e.g.).  The Chorus blog's up-to-the minute Resources Page, maintained by Andrew Gee, is a valuable archive.  
  • We need to help raise the level and health of cultural interest in Atlanta. This is for WAC's benefit as well as ours. Many different groups show sturdy support and growing numbers on the SOSA Facebook page. These groups have been previously ignored by WAC and ASO Management, for reasons I can't fully understand, given the speeches we were hearing from Stanley on those arts panels he was on.  But the lack of substantive work in this area is likely related to cost as well as an inexperienced CEO and staff. Also, the predominant WAC activity of beating the orchestra into submission takes a certain mind-set at the top level, a mind-set not conducive to team-building in the arts. 
  • Who will lead ASO Management?  How can we get to know that person?   What other ways can we plug in -- officially or otherwise -- to assist ASO and WAC in their efforts to bring the orchestra to its full complement? 

Just to recap ... the following are the two organizations which were put in place to help the players during the lockout, and which will continue to operate post-lockout:

  • SOSA (FB and Blog page):  SOSA wants to be a force for community and world-wide awareness, getting the word out through the Facebook page, the new blog, and Twitter (thanks to the chorus tweeters KKG, Arietha and Sharon Simons, tweeting will be taken to a new level).  The support base for these efforts needs to grow exponentially.  SOSA will continue to be an up-to-date resource, build community awareness of ASO and Atlanta arts programs, help stimulate and grow financial support through fundraisers/projects, promote ASO concerts and ticket sales and promote Foundation-sponsored concerts outside Symphony Hall. 
  • ATLSM Foundation (website only):  The Foundation will also continue its work of finding playing opportunities, helping the players partner with band and orchestra directors in community schools, performing free concerts, coaching students, holding auditions and master classes.  In future, there will be some overlap with SOSA as far as community awareness projects, which benefit the Foundation's educational outreach mission.

Here's a quick recap of existing ways to help right now:

Join the Save Our Symphony Atlanta Facebook page.  Please share the page with your contacts.  As our members mobilize, our support base grows. 

Become a member of the Save Our Symphony Atlanta Blog Help us build a solid support base for the ASO.

If you are a Chorus Member or Friend of the Chorus, Join the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus Facebook page. We want to get to know all our new members.

Click Here to Donate to ATL Symphony Musicians Foundation

Click Here to Donate to ASOPA

But not everybody is on Facebook: 

Help extend our voice beyond social media.  To really get the word out, we need to be finding ways to get beyond Facebook. This chorus-centric blog is one way we do this. Encourage your friends to become a member of the blog page, by copying and sending them the link.  
If you have a blog or website, link the ASOC Singers and Friends blog.  Do your school and university contacts know what is happening here?

Use the Google tools to help our blog's SEO rise.  Click on '#1' on posts, which boosts our presence online.  Make comments.  

Help build an email contact list.  The chorus maintains a growing email list, for the express purpose of driving traffic to the blog.  Through the blog, we will now be linked to all the relevant music blog sites. If you, or someone you know, is not on Facebook, but would like to receive the regular emails I send out, please send me their email address.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ratification Feels Crazy Good!

For the FIRST TIME in history, the ASO musicians have come away from the negotiating table with a win. After over 8 weeks of being locked out by their parent institution, the Woodruff Arts Center, the players will be back next week to play in Symphony Hall, courtesy of a ratified contract which guarantees a complement of 88 players in four years, and a pay raise.    

We have all worked hard, supporting the players in what was an often daunting effort to get a fair settlement from the WAC.  

Was this terrible battle was necessary?  Why was it the players had to be threatened with the loss of their livelihoods as well as the compromise of their artistic reputation?   

The only thing I can say is that when I look at the weeks of work and struggle, I can't fail to see the good:  an orchestra with a better understanding and control of their place in the future ... two committed artistic directors willing to put their reputations on the line and tell the world of the great harm being done to the ASO ... a chorus solidly behind them, as they were two years ago  ... new friends online and on the picket line; the chance to meet thousands of vocal supporters who cherish their orchestra ... a series of highly successful community concerts, which reminded us of what we were fighting for ... the chance to face a highly entrenched bureaucracy and not flinch even when they called us 'crazy'.  

Next week, we will express our gratitude to friends and patrons in the best way we know how:   performing the Beethoven 9 in the place where we, and our orchestra, belong together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Does Atlanta Have a Symphony Orchestra? (or Why Size Matters)

By Susan Merritt
Career-Long Musician and Music Educator

The typical size of a modern "symphony orchestra" is the result of the changing historical/stylistic periods in orchestral music. The number of musicians required to play the music written in each of the historical styles grew from small (around 25 players in the 1600-1750 Baroque Period) to very large (95-105+ in the 1815-1915 late Romantic Period and afterward). This was not because those crazy audiences just decided they liked bigger orchestras or the musicians wanted more buddies. It was because the composers of each period wrote music for more and more instruments.

To be designated a "symphony orchestra", an ensemble must have the instrumental forces needed to play music from each and every stylistic period. (i.e. a "chamber orchestra" plays only music from the earlier periods, thus needing a smaller complement of players; a "string orchestra" plays music written only for stringed instruments). A modern symphony orchestra, needs over ninety musicians on its roster, and, in some cases, over a hundred, to perform music of every stylistic period.

Quite aside from the requirements of the art form itself, professional orchestral musicians, like professional athletes, are engaged day in and day out in strenuous and sometimes injurious repetitive physical activity. If you think that's bunk, try sawing away on a violin or bending over a string bass for 6-8 hours a day and then being at the top of your form around 10:00 o'clock three to four nights a week. Repeat for 30 years. Shoulders, elbows, backs, necks, wrists, and hands take an incredible beating. You will be on a first-name basis with your physical therapist, neurologist, orthopedist - not to mention your otologist when your hearing goes because you sat in front of the trumpet section for your entire career.

At any one time during a season, there inevitably will be a number of team (orchestra) members on the "injured list" - yes, orchestras have an injured list. Sometimes careers (and livelihoods) end because of the injuries. Healthcare is no small item among your benefits.

In order to continue performing at peak capacity and to prevent the most common injuries, rest periods are essential. All musicians (athletes) need to be "on the bench" periodically. The rosters (complements) of teams must account for that reality, so that there are more pitchers, goalies, linebackers or musicians available than are needed for any one game (performance). Size of the roster is critical for two other reasons. (1) Both types of organizations train/rehearse and play as a team, with all the implied interdependencies cultivated by long-term work AS A TEAM, and (2) there (we hope) will always be newer players learning OVER TIME to play well with the team. Bringing in short-term, albeit talented, players from the outside who have not cultivated these interdependencies undermines the carefully fostered characteristics of the team (orchestra). The same principles apply in business. The Business Dictionary defines "team" as

"A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members."
( definition/team.html#ixzz3HYL2I3H0)

The chart below shows the MINIMUM number and types of instruments needed to perform music of each historical period, based on the composers' indicated orchestration of their works. This is for a SINGLE PERFORMANCE of a piece of music of the period. It, of course, does not account for the standard management of the orchestral "team", taking injury, illness and required rest time into account. The contrast with the present number of active musicians in the Atlanta "Symphony" Orchestra is instructive. It reveals how many non-team players must supplement the ASO when they play music written after 1815. Sometimes up to one-fourth of the orchestra. It also indicates that every single ASO musician must be physically well and present onstage for music written in the Classical Period (1730- c.1820).

Which music are we talking about? The music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, all the Strausses, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov, Elgar, Mahler, Debussy, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Holst, Ives, Ravel, de Falla, Respighi, Prokofiev, Gershwin, Copland, Shostakovich, Barber, Britten, Bernstein, Adams... . I'll stop there. These are some of the recognizable superstars of each period (and, ironically, the composers Atlanta audiences have historically been most likely to buy a ticket to hear). The composers of that group number in the hundreds, if not thousands. We should also mention the "Atlanta School of Composers" - composers whose music was commissioned, premiered and recorded by and are now eternally associated with the (once?) great Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Higdon, Theofanidis, Golijov, Gandolfi and Adam Schoenberg (and according to the ASO website, "...with other prospective composers on the horizon". Really?).

The Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) has assumed a role for which it was not originally intended, namely the cultivation, management and promotion of a symphony orchestra (or art museum or theatre). That role was rightfully delegated to the individual managers and boards of directors of each division of the Center – those with the expertise to do that. The Woodruff Arts Center handled facilities, payroll, corporate fundraising, security, etc., but not the artistic product. In other words, WAC played a support role to the actual artistic product. Divisions paid WAC their share of the “rent” and other services. The WAC in turn shared the corporate funds raised with the divisions according to their respective budget size.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, famously said of bad companies: “… the ‘product people’ get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product.” (Carey, Ryan. The Eight Greatest Quotes from Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. March 6, 2013. http://www.pastemagazine. com/blogs/lists/2013/03/the-eight-most-important-passages-from-steve-jobs-the-lost-interview.html)

Given the current mindset, I daresay that we can look forward to the Governing Board of the Center embarking on a course that determines the types of artists and playwrights the High and the Alliance will be capable of displaying/performing – with no less disastrous results than determining which repertoire the ASO is capable of performing. The quality of the product determines the fate of the organization. The ASO, by its very nature, is the only WAC division that must rely on a permanent roster of musicians to exist. I fear that the present course ensures that the Center will eventually be “parenting” (badly) a second-rate and merely regional group of artistic organizations. Does the Arts Center aspire to mediocrity?

Creative accounting, meddling in the artistic product, and causing possible irreversible harm to the very institutions that give the Woodruff Arts Center its reason for being spell doom for the WAC. It’s time to wake up. A balanced budget for a second-rate arts center is no victory.

Do your job, WAC. Raise the money to support excellence.


Here's that not so pretty chart (hard to do in a Facebook post) by period and required instruments listed in order:

Classical Period/Early Romantic Period/Late Romantic Period/Modern Period

1st Violins 10/14/16/16
2nd Violins 10/12/14/14
Violas 8/10/12/12
Cellos 6/8/10/10
Double basses 4/6/8/8
Harp 0/1/2/1-2
Flutes 2/2/3-4/2-4
Oboes 2/2/3-4/2-4
Clarinets 2/2/3-4/2-4
Bassoons 2/2/3-4/2-4
French horns 2-4/4/4-10/4-8
Trumpets 2/2/3-8/3-6
Trombones 0/3/3-5/3-6
Tubas 0/1/1-2/1-2
Timpani 1/1/2/2
Other percussionists 0/1/4/4-5


1st Violins 14
2nd Violins 11
Violas 8
Cellos 8
Double basses 5
Harp 1
Flutes 4
Oboes 4
Clarinets 4
Bassoons 4
French horns 4
Trumpets 3
Trombones 2
Tubas 1
Timpani 1
Other percussionists 3

I know it's hard to compare when there is no grid to line it all up. Work at it. Read it and weep.You'll learn a lot. Then think: Does Atlanta have a symphony orchestra?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Robbie Report: How the WAC Can Cut $5M from the ASO Budget

One of the more vexing issues we've been struggling with since 2012 has been the negative financial impact of Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, for which construction WAC Board member Larry Gellerstedt's company received a no-bid contract.  Loan payments as well as operating costs were added to the orchestra's bottom line, digging the orchestra deeper and deeper into debt.

Robbie Clark sheds light, asks probing questions, and generally tries to gauge the effect of VWA's effect on the ASO, after pioneering through a thicket of available information.

The ATL Symphony Musicians logo was adopted
in 2014 by the players, to differentiate themselves and their
activities as a separate entity from the ASO organization.

Op-Ed from The Musician's Child

Lexi Smith, Harvard Class '18, was raised by a violinist; one of our violinists, in fact: Denise Smith. Since she was an infant, Lexi has partaken of her mother's musical life, lived and breathed triumph and tribulation with all the ASO musicians, and has been a first-hand witness to the depth of commitment and sacrifice a professional musician makes to preserve the excellence of the organization.

Lexi's op-ed piece about the ASO Lockout was recently published by Harvard College Democrats Newsletter ... and we publish it here (under the special category of 'Children Raised To Do Right').

While you're reading Lexi's eye-opening article, please take a look at the article's accompanying photo of the ASO and ASO Chorus, led by Robert Spano, performing a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall.

If the WAC gets their way, we may have already performed our last show at Carnegie Hall ...

Robert Spano and ASO and ASOC
 at Carnegie Hall, 2012