From the President (Nov. 8, 2009)

Dear Colleagues,

Well, the World Series is over, and the New York Yankees won the title after a nine year absence. Ever since that fateful night last week I have heard so much about the team, and even one report near the end of last week talked about how the team would not be happy with anything less than “world domination!”  That comment left me a little perplexed, especially since the “World Series” is really not that at all in baseball. And such publicity for something that is not all that important when put in perspective.

I was also struck by another incident last week that happened here at school. Sometime after 3:30 PM there was a “special announcement” informing those of us still in the building that one of our girl’s athletic teams had just won a place in the state playoffs? Well, something like that; they had won an important game that had advanced them to a playoff situation. All of the above is certainly good! I do like some sports; indeed, I am a baseball fan with an allegiance to Boston, I like basketball, occasionally watch hockey and wish I understood football better.

Anyway, when I heard the announcement at school, I started to reflect, and of course you are probably aware at this point where I am going. In all my years of teaching I have never heard a “special announcement” when any of my students were accepted in our District Choral Festival, or the Vermont All State Music Festival, or the New England Music Festival, or any Eastern or National ACDA or MENC Honor Choir. Now I know that maybe these things are not the same as an athletic contest, but when one thinks about it these students of ours in music compete just as rigorously as our athletic counterparts, and they develop and display skills equally as difficult and time consuming as our sports compatriots.

So the rhetorical question that I have no answer for is “Why is it that sports gets so much more attention than our choral music programs?” Well, I do know a lot of the answers, and I know we all have our own opinions as well. But the thought still remains for me. Why? I often talk about this with my school colleague John Henzel. He often points out to me how much time the high school sports teams receive on the nightly news programs, and he also points out that if you read the daily paper (at least the Burlington Free Press), the weight given to the sports news far outweighs the arts news. Why is this?

I so wish that there was a paper dedicated to JUST the arts, and particularly music, and in particular choral music, in our state. Think about how much there is going on in our state chorally. I really believe a monthly music publication could be a worthwhile venture; with all the outstanding professional choral musicians in our state, and the adult choirs, community choirs, college choirs, student choirs at ALL levels, etc., there would be so much information to present and so many people to interview, programs to advertise, etc. that there would never be a lack of newsworthy press. So many promising young students to recognize and present to the public, so many organizations that also need recognition.

At the heart of this matter is a problem that is deeply seated in our local state culture; serious music making is not entertainment, and yet the general public at large believes this to be true; they want to be entertained, not enlightened. We can pack our auditoriums for a musical production, and do it for several consecutive evenings, yet we can’t even get a modicum of attendance at a classical organ recital. The local newspaper and TV stations will give all kinds of press to an upcoming football game between Burlington High School and Rice Memorial High School, but our own All State Music Festival gets all but token recognition, and even then it centers the attention on the parade, not the concert festival. These kinds of comparisons indicate to me that there is a definite inequity between the arts and the athletic communities in our state. But deep down I do understand; our high school and national sports games are really more entertainment, even though there is great skill involved, and entertainment draws crowds willing to pay good money. I seldom see the stadiums of the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees with empty seats. The cost is high to attend a baseball game these days, but yet symphony orchestras are experiencing falling attendance at performances, and tickets in general are less pricey!

Again, I don’t know the answer, but it concerns me. If there is any solace for me though, it has been expressed in part in an article by Samuel Lipman, a concert pianist and sometimes music critic. He says in part……….

“Here, it seems to me, is a way we can approach the question of the true size of the audience for music and the other arts. The audience is composed of those who deeply want to come; the artist’s work is its own best—and only—advertisement. Beyond a minimum of arrangements and notification, everything rests on the quality of the relationship between the artist and those who singly witness the art.

“So, in the end, the size of the audience for art ought not to be our concern. Our concern must be for the art and for the nature of our commitment to it. We live altogether too much in an age when the advocates of culture have transformed quality into quantity rather that quantity into quality. The time has come to put a stop to the selling of music. It is now plain that art is too beautiful to be left to its< boosters.”

Maybe Mr. Lipman is right on, and we just need to keep on doing our best work, and those people that attend will be our best advocates and supporters. But we will never get the audiences that crowd into our sports stadiums; and maybe that is OK. Our work is important, and it speaks for itself. We in the public schools, and we the choral directors of student choirs and church choirs and community choirs are indeed artists in our own right, and we do exemplary work. But I can’t help thinking….what if?


Frank Whitcomb

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