ONENESS", an intriguing performance art piece by
Sullivan, oboist & painter Ken Cro-Ken."
- THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011)
" ...the cutting edge." - THE NEW YORKER (1999)
Matt Sullivan- Princeton University
Here is an interesting article that I think you will like:
Career Choices and Music Advocacy:
Joseph Robinson Talks with Nora Post
Nora Post- Oboe sales extraordinaire
Published in The Double Reed, Volume 22: 1999
(Introduction by Dean Michael Rothchild, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.)
This interview was part of a program given at OBOE BLOW-OUT PRINCETON: THE CUTTING EDGE, presented jointly by the Music Department of Princeton University, Nora Post, Inc. and Matt Sullivan, Oboe Professor at Princeton University; March 28 & 29, 1998. On the afternoon of March 29, "Joseph Robinson in Concert and Concert" included two Beethoven trios (Mr. Robinson, principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic, was joined by two of his students, Keisuke Ikuma, oboe, and Carolyn Banham, English horn), plus the interview below. The appearances of Mr. Robinson, Mr. Ikuma and Ms. Banham were graciously sponsored by F. Lorée Oboes in Paris.
MR: Good afternoon. I'm Michael Rothchild, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. I'm here to introduce Joseph Robinson. A fairly natural question to ask is what am I doing here? There are two reasons: the first is that I have an extraordinarily sentimental attachment to oboes, and I will explain why. The first time I met my wife--and she's sitting in the last row--she took me to an oboe concert by Bert Lucarelli. That was the beginning of the most important relationship of my life, so I feel very good about oboes and oboists! The second reason was that Joe Robinson was a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School in 1966, and the relationship then--and since then--has not been entirely happy! Joe appeared for a concert for the 250th celebration of Princeton, for which many of Princeton's most eminent performers and composers appeared. He wrote the following:
"My advisors and grave examiners in the Woodrow Wilson School in 1964 did not believe that proficiency on the oboe constituted any proper basis for a career in public service. So my instrument was not much in evidence until about two years later when, in the spring of 1966, S. Frederick Starr had the audacity to put eight of us on the steps on the Yamisaki building for Mozart serenades."
Now I want to say, on behalf of the Woodrow Wilson School, that we are very proud of Joseph Robinson. It's very clear, when you look at his career, that he has made significant contributions to public service in the broadest sense. Most importantly, he is, as you all know better than I, an absolutely first class oboist. But he has also spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of a career in music, the nature of a career as a performer as well as an educator. He has had a great deal to do with starting the first masters program at Manhattan School of Music which combined education and performance. This was something the Woodrow Wilson School didn't do very well! I am delighted to be able to introduce him today. Thank you very much.
JR: Thank you Michael for that most gracious welcome back to Princeton. It was especially nice to hear him say that it might seem strange that he is here today. When I first came to Princeton and drove up that road--and I was telling Carolyn and Keisuke today that I was so nervous and excited, and my heart was in my throat--the first meeting I had was with my advisor, who was one of the two co-authors of what was probably the most important study of the economics of the performing arts ever written. That was just serendipity--the accident that Bill Bowen was the author of a book dealing with the field of my great interest was just astounding good luck.
My first duty at the Woodrow Wilson School was to meet my advisor. I came running in, thrilled to death, and announced I was an oboe player. "Well," he said, "What are you doing here?" Now it's very nice to hear Michael say "What am I doing here?" I think that's very nice of you, and I really appreciate that. In a broad sense, my own career--as you'll hear when Nora starts interviewing me later on--has dealt with public service interests. Certainly the place of the artist in society is an important question, as well as that of arts institutions; I can say that my own professional journey has pretty much paralleled the rise and fall of the National Endowment for the Arts. When I bet my life on music in my mid-twenties--even at the Woodrow Wilson School--it was with the encouragement of what we called the "Culture Boom" in America. At that time there was a great deal of enthusiasm about what we thought would be the beginning of a new era of official endorsement of the arts, and of education in the arts. Instead, as you all know, we have seen the National Endowment come to a pretty dismal near end already, and many thousands of instrumental teachers have been dismissed from their jobs in public schools. So, this has been an important national development that has paralleled my own career.
In any case, today started with a very welcome invitation for my homecoming to Princeton, and when Nora said she thought it would be good to discuss different career options, I thought it might be fun for you to meet two of my best students, neither of whom took what you would call the most direct pathway to a successful career. Caly went to Temple University, and did study with Louis Rosenblatt of the Philadelphia Orchestra but, she was at home there in a great university, not in a conservatory, which has been the traditional gestating place for people like her. And Keisuke, who is from Tokyo, actually studied to be a lawyer, and could be an attorney practicing in Tokyo today. Instead, he came to Manhattan School of Music and was, as I am sure you have all read, principal oboe in the New World Symphony in Miami for four years.
NP: I thought that an interesting way to go about this would be to take a consensus--at least as much as was possible within the past week or two--of various influential colleagues discussing some very important issues in music as a career to them. I made many phone calls--it was a lot of fun--and I had some great chats with a lot of wonderful people in the profession. While I was servicing and repairing oboes over the past few weeks, I was simultaneously interviewing some of our most interesting colleagues on the phone I never do only one thing at once; this was right up my alley, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed preparing for this! I've put together some major subject areas. The first one is fairly long-winded, but after that they get shorter. I'm going to kind of back into the first question, and I hope you'll have the patience to bear with me. There will be a number of quotes from different influential players. So, Joe, I would like to ask for your responses to what some of these players have to say.
Thus far, there are two oboe jobs available in the U.S. for next season which have been advertised in the International Musician. There were 400 applicants for a recent violin vacancy in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Many large American cities no longer have a classical radio station, and the industry for classical recordings is in serious trouble. We seem to be living through a time when jobs in classical music are dwindling at the same time the skill level of the players has never been higher! Twenty years ago, then principal oboist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, John deLancie, said music schools needed to cut back. We certainly have fewer and fewer professional orchestras each year, yet do we have fewer and fewer music schools? Orchestral performance is the Western European heritage in Classical music, yet demographics, multi-culturalism, and many other factors conspire to create a real challenge to our ideas about the place of classical music in this society. In the era of the Kennedys, for example, Casals played at the White House. It speaks bucket loads that Stevie Wonder was the Clinton's choice to entertain the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
The subject of careers in music is one which presents an ethical challenge to many of the most highly regarded professional oboists in the country, most of whom are sought after as the teachers and mentors of the next generation. As Harry Sargous of the University of Michigan puts it, "A musician's real job is to prepare the next generation." I talked to a number of our colleagues in preparing for this talk, and it was immediately evident that this is a difficult, yet passionate subject. Everyone had lots to say, and there were feelings of concern, of hope, of anguish over the current situation and, very importantly, the need to be honest with talented young players about job prospects without making them feel you don't believe in their talent and abilities. When I spoke to John Ferrillo, the Co-Principal of the Metropolitan Opera, he said that was the single most difficult thing for him. A real Catch 22. As Dan Stolper of Michigan State University and Interlochen suggested for an opening question for you: "You know how to prepare your students to win jobs in orchestras. How do you prepare them NOT to win a job?" That question seems to cut right to the chase. I know it's a subject of great worry and concern to virtually all parents of young oboists. How would you respond to Dan's question?
JR: I wonder if things are really so different. When I was Chairman of an advisory board for Oberlin Conservatory--a position I held for three years starting about ten years ago--graduates of Oberlin Conservatory were canvassed five years after they left the school, and only ten percent of them were actually earning their living as performers. If we counted teaching, working in music stores, or anything at all having to do with the field of music, the number rose to about 50%. Yet Oberlin has never enjoyed greater popularity among applicants for music study, and the same can be said for Manhattan School of Music, where we just set a record for the fourth year in a row for the number of applicants for admission. Even Juilliard's performance employment rate is 15% following graduation.. Perhaps Curtis does the best because it is the smallest and has the most elite enrollment. The fact remains that very few conservatory graduates have ever been able to go on and earn their living as performers. It is astonishing for laymen to encounter that fact, because we wouldn't tolerate law, medical, or business schools with that kind of yield. So what does happen to those people who don't make it?
If I take my own students as an index of this, I find that most of them go on to be intensely involved with music in one way or another throughout their lives, regardless of how they earn their living. These are often the people who serve on symphony boards, or who assist in all sorts of community arts organizations that nurture the kind of matrix that keeps the roots of our musical culture alive. I don't know the facts, so I don't know if it is dramatically different today than it was fifty years ago. At the turn of the century in this country, Theodore Thomas was like Johnny Appleseed, planting orchestras in big cities in this country. He was part of the "Culture Boom" of that time--when new musical institutions were being created that employed people. Most of our orchestras then were populated by European imports. Walter Damrosch would regularly go to European cities to talent scout, and to bring people back. One of my own teachers, Marcel Tabuteau, was engaged in this way to play English horn in the New York Philharmonic. Damrosch found Tabuteau in Paris and brought him back to New York. But I think I am still dodging the question: what do you do about conservatory graduates who can't win an audition? I think there's a great deal of concern among music school deans and conservatory presidents about this. Bob Freeman, who has been a friend of mine since we were here at Princeton together, has always felt a great sense of responsibility to prepare graduates of Eastman--and now New England Conservatory--to survive if they don't get a job. On the other hand, let me say that if I were dean of a music school or a conservatory, I would be as conservative as possible about my role--just as deLancie was at Curtis--because conservatories exist to give fanatics a chance to succeed, to do what they are intent upon doing. You're probably going to ask me this later on, but I would say--and I have been teaching now for forty years--that the most important ingredient for success in this field is not some objective measure of ability, but it is the quality of one's affection for the business, for the stuff its made of. As an example, a student of mine I met early on in my career in the New York Philharmonic came to this country barely able to speak English. He still met every important oboe player in America at the backdoor or Carnegie Hall, took lessons with most of them, and now is Assistant Principal of the Boston Symphony--Keisuke Wakao. He was insatiable and unstoppable in his appetite for things dealing with the oboe. I met him when he was sixteen years old, and I thought then that he was someone who would be able to succeed in this business because of his fanaticism. It's part of our tradition in this country to give people the opportunity to pursue their dreams. My career couldn't have happened in a socialist society--educators wouldn't have squandered the resources, teaching me to become a bureaucrat, when I eventually became a reed maker! My track record bears out the fact that I have been involved all along in institution building, in public policy--the same things that are a direct consequence of my study at the Woodrow Wilson School and if they have gotten me in trouble with managers of orchestras and others who want to protect their turf, well, I regret that, but I think people have to play the cards they were dealt. It's important for people to live uniquely and authentically in terms of who they really are, and what skills they really possess. I don't regret a day in Princeton and am, in fact, very grateful for that time and training.
NP: Thank you. I'm going to plow right ahead to the next subject area. I've got lots to ask, so I will have to keep plowing! Here's my second question: Who should be a professional oboe player and when is it time to realize on a practical level that it might not work out? Here are some of the responses I got, and then I will ask for your response.
Matt Sullivan, who is here performing with us today, said: "If you can't support yourself by the age of thirty, do something else."
John Ferrillo of the Metropolitan Opera said: "If you have the slightest doubt, get out!" John is interesting because he blew off (and those are his words) ten years and twenty-three auditions--he blew off a decade of his life--before he landed a job. He was retooling in history and political science while he was unemployed. Then he won San Francisco, then he won the Met. If the co-principal oboe in the Metropolitan Opera--whose playing, in my humble opinion, is beyond sublime--lost a decade trying to get employment of any kind, what can the rest of us expect?
Richard Nass, English horn in the Metropolitan Opera said: "Only do this if you cannot conceive of doing anything else, and do it without the idea of making money doing it.
" Fred Korman, the principal oboe of the Oregon Symphony has a high school junior who is an absolute whiz oboe player. Fred said to him: "You play beautifully. I only have two more years to discourage you from doing this for a living!"
Brian Greene, whom we heard last night, said something very much like Ferillo: "At any hint of doubt, pursue another field! It has to be what you want more than anything else in the world."
Allan Vogel, the principal oboe of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra said: "Nobody, not matter how good they are, can count on an orchestra job! Then what? If you have the determination and the fire to play, do it, but be practical. I play Bach every day at the piano. No one will ever pay me for it! I do it because I love it. Think carefully about what is your second love, but don't give up on your first!"
Ralph Gomberg, the distinguished retired principal oboe of the Boston Symphony commented: "If they have the talent, I tell them to go for it. Most bright kids have many talents, and they've usually got something to fall back on--Joe Robinson is a great example! I can't guess what world they are going into. Let them fight their way to the top! Determination is so much of it. The teacher should not be the one to say they can't make it. What if I am wrong? Besides, if someone doesn't have the talent, they don't need me to tell them. They find out! Their peers, their conductors--whatever. Would you want the responsibility of telling them that they can't do it? My job is to encourage them.
For me, I lived, breathed, ate and dreamed music. I loved it. There was never a question of doing something else--I practiced my head off!"
So, what is your response to this question: Who should be a professional oboe player, and is there a time to consider that it might not work out?
JR: First, I think I should correct the impression that John Ferrillo was out there begging on the street or something. He was teaching at the University of West Virginia, and he was paying his rent that way. It would be a mistake to underestimate the quality of life, and the creative opportunities inherent in the academic realm. I know so many colleagues who have chosen it as an alternative career, and I myself taught for four years at the North Carolina School of the Arts. I enjoyed it very much. I played in the Winston-Salem Symphony as a volunteer, I was a member of its Board of Directors, I spent summers in Italy; I created the John Mack Oboe Camp, etc. There was a rich diversity of opportunity in that setting. So, you don't have to win an audition to find a fulfilling life in music. I would also say that in my forty years as a teacher, I have probably told two students to do something else. I never wanted to presume to judge anyone's potential in such a categorical way. People develop in unpredictable ways. There is a very dramatic case of John Ferillo, who was, by the way, so close to winning the New York Philharmonic assistant principal job--I think in his 22nd audition!--that Zubin Mehta asked that we call him back onto the stage. He was out in front of Avery Fischer Hall at that moment, hailing a cab. If he had remained in the building ten more minutes, he might have won that job. So it was very close. And I think his example is not so different from my own in a way. To avoid conflicts of interest, when I was teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts, I joined the board of the local orchestra, and I played in the orchestra for free, in order to enable my colleagues at the school to join the orchestra at a premium rate of pay. I displaced an anesthesiologist who had been the amateur oboist there for many years, and who gave up the first position very reluctantly. Of course, he was earning a quarter of a million dollars himself at that time, and was playing in the orchestra for $60.00 a service to indulge his hobby. I was making $12,500 teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and I played in the orchestra for free. I always tell the story that I played Brahms Fourth in Winston-Salem in April for nothing, and Dvorak 9th in the New York Philharmonic in June for something! (lots of laughter!). It was such a dramatic change! And so it went with John Feriillo. He was teaching at West Virginia for a very modest salary, and the next year he was Co-Principal of the Metropolitan Opera. I couldn't agree more with Nora Post about John's preeminence. The future of oboe playing in this country looks bright indeed in his hands, in Elaine Douvas' hands, in Alex Klein's hands. But, to get to the point, I've had maybe two students whom I felt it was my duty to advise to stop wasting their time. In both cases, it was evident that they really couldn't tell one note from another.
NP: Right. The next subject I would like to talk about is getting a good liberal arts education. This is something virtually everyone I spoke to stressed. In the arts, particularly in fields like dancing or acting, you can be finished by thirty. Of course, dance is the most notorious. In that sense, the arts are very similar to professional sports. A broad based education seems imperative in this context. As Matt Sullivan said, "It's not just getting to a great teacher--it's getting to a great school, too!"
Brian Greene, who played last night, said: "Get a good education, and don't blow off your education to make reeds! The chances are you are not going to succeed! Find a teacher who has won more than one audition, and is in an orchestra job, if that's what your goal is. My performance degrees are worthless. I can't even get a teaching job! In hindsight, I should have gotten a great liberal arts education. If I woke up one day and couldn't play the oboe, there's nothing else I could do! I would have to start from scratch. So many of my friends just took the bare minimum to get a music degree. What a mistake! There should be a class in every music school entitled REALITY!"
I can tell a story here myself. I have a cousin who married a tuba player who went to Peabody Conservatory. It's even worse for tuba players, because there is only one in every orchestra. After he graduated, he was playing in beer bands in Baltimore. He is now finishing a Ph.D. as a research biologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It turned out that not one credit of his four year undergraduate career at the august Peabody Conservatory was acceptable to the University of Pennsylvania, so he had to do all four years of undergrad work all over again before he started his Masters and a Ph.D. He was thirty-two when he started again! What a stunning comment on conservatory education--and what a stunning wake-up call for the parents who pay tuition to these institutions!
You mentioned in an interview you did about twenty years ago with Dan Stopler that you went into economics because your father thought your education "should point towards future employment." Can you talk about how your own education prepared you for what you are doing now? Given your strong academic background, how much do you stress getting a good education when advising your students?
JR: One reason I went into liberal arts was that my first peek at the professional orchestra business was so discouraging. I was at a summer festival. I appreciate now that the duty of playing the concerts in the zoo was very unpleasant; it is no wonder, in hindsight, that they were a very disgruntled lot--hardly an inspirational or magnetic group as role models! My father used to say, "Son, this music business is just like religion--just don't go off the deep end!" I guess I went pretty far off the deep end, but that was later. At Davidson College where I studied English and economics. During my senior year, I talked to John deLancie about auditioning for Curtis, but he would not permit me to do that, I was too old to audition at Curtis, and he would not be interested in teaching me. So, I got a Fulbright to study government support of the arts in Germany, and while I was in Europe, I met Marcel Tabuteau. He agreed to teach me because I was an English major. That was the only reason! He had not taught for ten years. He had one piece of unfinished business, which was to produce a method book. So when I walked across his threshold in March 1963, he thought God had delivered him his scribe! When I asked if I could study with him, without hesitating he said "Yes, come back in the summer." I told him I couldn't pay him anything, but he said it was all right--just bring him a bottle of Scotch! So I had five weeks of lessons with the man who was probably the greatest oboe performer and teacher of the first half of the twentieth century, which more than compensated for the kind of conservatory training I had not had. Perhaps I ended up with the best Curtis genes of all! I'm even on the Board of Overseers of the Curtis Institute now. Again I'm dodging the question. Let me give you a few other examples, though, because I think it's very interesting. My counterpart, my peer in this business, is Jimmy Caldwell. I went to Tanglewood the year after Jimmy Caldwell. Jimmy had won Best Musician at Tanglewood in 1958. Zubin Mehta was there then, and then Jimmy was at Marlboro the following summer. But his shadow still hung large over Tanglewood when I was there. I finally got to hear Jimmy play when I was a junior at Davidson. That was the year deLancie had a heart attack, and Jimmy played principal oboe in the Philadelphia Orchestra the entire season as a twenty year old. Back-stage in Charlotte I met him and talked to him about his Curtis training. I mention Jimmy because I have the greatest admiration for him. He is probably the most talented oboist of my generation. He took the high road in terms of music career preparation, from Texas All-State to Curtis, to the Philadelphia Orchestra--heir apparent to his teacher's position in the lineage direct from Tabuteau. But instead, he resigned as Principal of the National Symphony and went to Oberlin to teach, reversing the John Ferrillo pattern, and shocking the oboe world. I think Jimmy Caldwell is the truest intellectual I know who is also an oboe player. In a certain sense, his liberal education began when his orchestra career ended. During my years on the Oberlin Visiting Committee, Jimmy and I used to get together and tease each other about this. I said, "Look, for the last thirty years, reed has been spelled with two E's in my life." And he said, "For the last thirty, mine has had an 'A' in it." Jimmy Caldwell has an insatiable curiosity about everything. One other note about that: when I met Marcel Tabuteau--I was twenty three years old, and I sat there at his knee--I was full of sophomoric ideas about the nature of things. The thing that amazed me about Tabuteau was that he revealed in his world view, in his philosophical outlook, in his value system, the most amazing kinds of parallels to what I had learned in religion, in philosophy, in economic theory in liberal arts study in college. Let me give you an example. One day on the golf course, I asked John Mack: "What is the most important thing you ever learned from Marcel Tabuteau?" Without hesitating, he said two things. First, "Put the notes on the wind." That is affirmation of a collective value. It means you subordinate the individual elements to the whole line. Pablo Casals confirmed this idea when he would say, "Melody is a progression of rainbows." The second thing John Mack said--and this is even more obscure, but I will explain it--is: "Play the life of the notes." This affirms the value of individualism. So, there I was, talking to a seventy-six year old genius who never really did anything in all of his life except play the oboe, and he was talking about things at the heart of existence--the dilemma between universalism and solipsism--communism and capitalism, etc. There were all sorts of analogies. Tabuteau pontificated about every conceivable subject--from Algerian politics to feminism. He had an opinion about everything, but he had informed himself as a human being through the medium of oboe notes. I would like to add one other thing--and this is my favorite story about Tabuteau. One afternoon I asked him if there was any time in his career that he thought was the high point. "Well," he said, just like that, "When Toscanini came to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in the forties and fifties--pension concerts for the orchestra, some of which were recorded. Here was the most intense, cerebral conductor, engaging the most romantic orchestra that had ever been developed--Stokowski's orchestra. Toscanini in Philadelphia. Unforgettable." Then he hesitated, and looking out over his balcony in Nice toward the mountains, and he said, "There were a few good notes." This was the most humble thing I had ever heard a great man say about his life. And then he turned, and he looked me straight in the eye and he said: "And they are still ringing." The hairs stood up on the back of my head! That was an affirmation that galvanized my own sense of purpose, that set my choice toward a career as a performer. I would say from that day in 1963 until today, I have pursued oboe notes, hoping to find a "good" one! That's why I play. What Tabuteau was really saying was that maybe it is given to artists, as well as saints, to get to the other side. Maybe that is the ultimate conceit, but it is also the ultimate human challenge, isn't it? Again, the sense of one's affirmation has a great deal to with one's sense of valuable purpose. What Tabuteau did for me was to make oboe playing important enough to be worth giving my life to.
NP: I would like to talk to you about another subject that I know is important to you--audience development. There are many things I would like to ask you, but we aren't going to have the time today. But one thing came up with most of the players I talked to was the question of what kind of approach is best for building audiences, especially when you are preaching to the unconverted. In Indianapolis, there is a Dancing Santa Claus Show for the entire Christmas season. The Rochester Philharmonic goes out into the shopping malls. Someone in the LA studios and the jingle world commented that wasn't exactly not the purest of arts forms, either! A friend of mine is one of the greatest cantors in this county--he's the coach for all the upcoming cantors, and he's a fabulous singer, was on a board with some very distinguished rabbis. He was representing the musical part of the Jewish world. The rabbis kept hammering at him that he was singing above the level of the congregations, that no one understood or appreciated the repertoire, and that people just wanted to hear the simple stuff they understood. My friend looked at them, and he asked hem if they preached every week about ba--ba black sheep. After all, everyone understood that. Well, no, that wasn't what they wanted to teach their congregations, so that was that! Although as one very distinguished player commented, the sleazier the gig, the more income it usually produces for the orchestra! Is sugar coating the repertoire what we need to do in terms of developing an audience? I'd like to give you a couple of player's comments, and then ask for yours.
Fred Korman said: "The orchestra is unique. It's a part of history. We're becoming a museum piece. But present yourself as what you are! Classical music is written for rich white people and it smacks of the privileged!"
John Ferillo said "What good does it do if you entice them by not playing what you do, which is classical music? Don't transform yourself into something not worth preserving!"
Ralph Gomberg commented that "The pops crowd do not go to subscription concerts. They were never interested in classical music. This summer the BSO is doing Beethoven's 9th in the Esplanade at Tanglewood with Ozawa. We could get 200,000 people! It's not a question of playing down to them, it's a question of lifting them up! But you have to bring it to them and also remember that they can't afford it! (Ralph went on at length about the importance of all the concerts the Boston Symphony plays for underprivileged urban children.)
So, what, if any, is the place of compromising your standards in order to attract prospective new employers for us, i.e. our audience?
JR: I agree with Ralph Gomberg that musical compromise doesn't work. No organization has demonstrated this more dramatically than Boston. There is, in fact, almost no crossover from Pops to the classical concerts, and there never has been. That has been borne out pretty much across the country. I was on a panel for the Knight Foundation, which some of you may know that as "The Magic of Music." Knight Foundation gives away about forty million dollars a year, and after being a fund-raiser for thirty-five years, it's nice to be on the other side, giving the money away! The panel's intention has been to provide risk capital for orchestras to try new ways to engage new audiences. For the most part, I have to say that these experiments have not worked. People may be curious about the gimmickry once or twice, but it turns out that 80% of subscribers to American symphony orchestra concerts play or played musical instruments. There is also something else that happened that many of us were not aware of. It began as a reaction to Sputnik in the late fifties and early sixties. We began to transfer funds away from arts programs and other programs considered expendable, and redirect them towards math and science. It was the national paranoia that led to our successful attempt to catch and surpass to the Russians in space. The same year the National Endowment for the Arts was established in 1965, we also passed the 1965 Education Act, which included seventy-five million dollars--and that was a lot of money in those days--for Title III programs. These were arts enrichment programs for the schools. Some of us called that the "Woodwind Quintet Full Employment Provision!" What we were doing was taking arts programs to people we thought might be persuaded by encountering them. We thought exposure would be sufficient. But, at the same time, we were dismantling the programs that taught me--and millions of people like me--to play. We have done this to the extent that now there are only 50% as many instrumental teachers in the public schools as in 1960, and if you saw Mr. Holland's Opus, you know what that's about. The institution that trained me--a conservatory in Lenoir, North Carolina--is now just a crumbling relic. There's nothing left there.
I also agree with Ralph Gomberg in another respect. When I was in the Atlanta Symphony--about 1970--my best friend from Davidson College was chairman of the Board of Aldermen in Atlanta. Robert Show was dismissed by the board of the Symphony for playing too much modern music--Charles Ives, mainly. Then, in a grass roots campaign that Time Magazine called the first grass roots revolution in America, people in Atlanta reinstated him by sending in pledges and checks payable to Robert Shaw, so the board was forced to reinstate Shaw. I had lunch with my friend at that time, and he commented that the demonstration of public interest in the orchestra was amazing, and we ought to do something with it. He said: "Why don't you write a bill and I will introduce it?" I went home thinking that what we needed to do was lower the social and economic costs of concert attendance in Atlanta. All over the country, in order to pay people like me, we have made the audience into one of the elite arts clubs in our society. That turns off a lot of people who don't feel that they belong. And for some very practical reasons, as you said, many simply can't afford to go.
NP: Yes. Many people mentioned that. Even if someone is interested, what do you do if they can't afford it? Ralph Gomberg also said that when you bus in all these kids from the ghetto, they are jumping all over the chairs, they are squirming, they don't know when to clap, but the place is packed, and he loves it. If it "took" on even 10% of them, we would have the next generation of concert goers.
JR: Yes, and I had a similar experience in Atlanta. We passed a bill which provided for four free concerts for families in Atlanta. The board disdained this initiative, saying we shouldn't give away what we are trying to sell. Others said that people wouldn't be interested because it was free. So they put one very small ad in the Sunday paper, suggesting that anyone who was interested should cut out the ad and send it in. In the meantime, they gave away 1,500 tickets to the fire department and the Bureau of Children's Services, because they were afraid there wouldn't be an audience. Then on Wednesday, there was a picture in the paper of the assistant manager of the orchestra buried under an avalanche of mail--12,000 requests for tickets in three days. The audience that showed up for that first free concert was not like the audience that we had seen in the hall. It was whole strings of family members coming in together, it really looked like the community of Atlanta, not the subscribers of the Northwest suburbs. So, there was definitely interest.
I think the best kind of investment an orchestra could make in its own future would be to give subscriptions to the best performing high school musicians. Give them, their band directors, and their parents, four free concerts. They are demonstrably the people who are the most interested, and the people most likely to be the audience of the future. Of course, what we see at the present time is orchestras that are trying to do the educational work tens of thousands of instrumental teachers used to do. We see it all over the country: "We have adopted a school." We try to send members of our orchestra to present programs in these schools--and this is happening all over the country. It's only tokenism, really. Orchestras can't supplant thousands of full time teachers. Maybe we can help change public attitudes. The New York Philharmonic can throw a pretty good party--we ought to be lobbying curriculum planners all the time!
NP: I have one closing question. You have been a great advocate of the arts. With all your experience, at levels considered unattainable by most of us in this room, what would you suggest each of us could do in order to bolster the prospects of classical music in this country and in our communities?
JR: The most important thing any of us can do is love the music more. And if you really do, you will find all kinds of opportunities to be effective advocates of what you care about. I have said that for my entire career, most importantly to people who are empowered, like board members. They often do not love the music very much, but love other things that membership represents. For all of us here today, we at least care about oboe notes! As I said, be shameless and enthusiastic in your love of music. Things will grow from that.
NP: Allan Vogel said, "Be fearless."
JR: That, too. And that's what we are about to do now, playing this Beethoven trio!
NP: Thank you so much.