In the midst of difficult and tense labor negotiations at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Virginia Hepner, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center (the ASO’s parent organization), proceeded to state during a radio interview that “It’s up to anyone to decide what’s world-class and what an orchestra should be.” As a curious music student, I realized I need to defend why I believe this is the single biggest misunderstanding of the arts today.
Like thousands of other young people studying music in college, I often engage in conversations with well-established adults in other professions. It’s too common that these conversations lead to how something so “subjective” as music can be taught…after all, you can’t touch and hold it, so how can one determine its “correctness”?
After becoming increasingly frustrated with not being able to explain what I really do as a musician, I finally learned one simple truth: musicians (and all artists) are in the business of making people feel something. Not only that, but making people feel real in a life-changing way.
Here’s an experiment: ask someone in their 30-somethings to name five Billboard-scoring artists today. More than likely, answers will come easy. Name today’s top-5 hits? No problem.
Now ask if they can name the five most popular artists ten years ago. Now fifteen years ago. Less luck, right?
The revealing aspect here is that great art stands the test of time. If something was so real to that artist they had to put it into music, I’ll bet anything that it’s still relevant today.
World class is truly the melding of passion and persistence. Persistence gives great passion wings to stand up against the hatred that picks away at the very essence of what we are as human beings. Just because Beethoven wrote his last notes nearly 200 years ago, this doesn’t mean it has lost any power to change our souls today.
But persistence takes energy. It takes more than skillful handiwork to sew together the quilt of countless composers who have left their music for us to soak up. An artist is a doctor of the soul, preparing decades to perform a concert that can really change someone’s heavy heart.
These artists are called to perform open heart surgery. They aren’t “staff” or “employees,” they’re people who work for no organization other than that of humankind.
The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony have shown us respect by mending our spirits for some seven decades. Now, let’s show them that same respect.