I think the phrase “you don’t know what you've got 'till it’s gone” applies to many cases in life. It’s certainly a very true statement, and I don’t think anyone has gone through life without experiencing the effects of it firsthand. However, I think there are many variations on the topic of taking something for granted and not all aspects of things taken for granted are unappreciated. Like orchestras.
I’ve never lived in a city that didn’t have a symphony orchestra, in fact, and the truth of that alone is uplifting. Even if my obsession with classical music didn’t really begin until a few years ago, looking back, it’s a comforting thought to know that they were always there for the musicians, the listeners, and the future listeners like me. No matter how out of place I ever felt liking classical music compared to others, I always had the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra to fall back on, to feel normal around, and to count on for some of the best live music I could hear in my state. It was like going to a major league baseball game; that was the crème de la crème, the protruding option, the classic choice. That is, until the NMSO filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy on Wednesday morning.
|Our conductor, Guillermo Figueroa (photo by Marla Brose from the ABQ Journal)|
The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra had been up and running since 1932. Next season would have been its 80th. For years the orchestra has been struggling, pilling up about a million dollars in debt to our main concert hall, Popejoy, and other venues. Musicians have been deprived of paychecks for months, and many concerts that have been put on are either advertised as free or were forcefully free to the musicians. I remember seeing news stories with images of musicians protesting outside of Popejoy with picket signs and chants. I could go to concerts and hear distant conversations of distress between the employees or outward calls for donations and faith in the organization from stages. But, despite an ailing foundation, the musicians played on, in all different venues, sizes, and spaces between paychecks.
There is so much buzz suddenly erupting over the bankruptcy filing (chapter 7 means a complete shutdown) over the internet and in day to day life. Management, culture, audience, pricing, you name it, it’s been blamed. However, I’m not going to talk about any causes, simply because I don’t think it’s worth it and because I don’t know the inside story. The point it, losing the NMSO is one of the biggest blows to the community that New Mexico has taken in the past years. Raising gas prices, large deficits, budget cuts—they all hurt our community in subtle ways, but the loss of an entire symphony orchestra? While our other political troubles are like losing jobs, losing such a core part of our culture is like losing a part of the family. It’s part of everyone, whether you’re a diehard or not.
But New Mexico isn’t the black sheep. Recently, the Philidelphia Orchestra filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy to avoid financial meltdown. The PO has also been accused of bad management, and is labeled as one of the only music organizations in the city as well. Chapter 11 means that the orchestra will be allowed to keep playing and the musicians would still be paid, unlike the abrupt and complete shutdown of the NMSO. Orchestras all around the country, such as the Detroit SO, Honolulu, and Syracuse, are in debt or have gone under.
I feel selfish when I only feel sorry for audience members like myself—what are the musicians going to do? Our concert master, Polish violinist Krzysztof Zimowski, told Albuquerque news station KOB, “I have dedicated 25 years of my life to this organization, to this orchestra. I feel horribly disappointed with whoever is behind this decision. There are definitely not musicians behind this decision.” New Mexico is definitely not the most well-known region in the United States. In fact, surprisingly, a large amount of people don’t even know that it’s part of the country (“You’re from MEXICO?” is one of the most common phrases heard). But we have an incredible pantheon of musicians in our tight-knit community. The talent is amazing and rich in every instrumental section. The thing that saddens me the most about the loss of the orchestra is the fate of the musicians. Knowing their caliber, I am certain that they all have the talent to continue as musicians, but life in a recession isn’t that easy. Hopefully they will all be able to continue doing what they love, because the world will surely benefit from it. New Mexico, and any other state in danger of losing their orchestra, for that matter, will never be a place absent of music. We have ensembles like Chatter and the players at the Church of Beethoven. We have the Santa Fe Opera, Opera Southwest, the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and the newly begun Albuquerque Philharmonic. But taking a blow this hard is difficult to recover from.
Being in high school, I am almost inevitably going to be exposed to the newest viral video. The most popular one at the moment is a song by 13-year-old Rebecca Black called “Friday.” The video has over 100 million views and her song is in the top 40 on ITunes. However, this is all because the song is terrible. In fact, her segment on Good Morning America was titled, “Worst Song in the World?” How is it that people like Rebecca Black can be millionaires for being untalented while some of the most talented people I’ve met suffer because of debt? I can’t call it a conspiracy or anything too overdramatic, but all I can say is that something’s not right here. I always knew that I was lucky to be in the presence of something like the NMSO as are others who live in areas with symphonies; I just never even fathomed it could come to an end. And I never knew I could miss something so much.