Right before I began at The Arts Partnership (July 1, 2010), the “Wall Street Journal’s” Terry Teachout wrote a piece questioning the value of small city orchestras in light of all the digital ways we can listen to “world class” orchestras play music. Our then mayor, Dennis Walaker wrote this fabulous response. With ED of the FMSO Linda Boyd’s permission, I am re-priting it here because I think it’s easy to take something like the FM Symphony Orchestra for granted. And while I am at it, let me just say that I think for many, it’s far too easy to take our museums and galleries, our opera, our ballet companies, our theatres, our choral and instrumental groups, our individual artists and more for granted. They’re here, so who cares if you attend and support them or not?
You know who cares? The directors, the performers, the makers and the funders.
We live in a community rich in the arts, but we have to do more than acknowledge that they are here. We have to attend, support, promote and encourage others so that they are still here in one year, five years, 50 years.
Thank you Mayor Walaker for this wonderful response! ~Dayna
From Dennis Walaker, Mayor of Fargo, North Dakota
In Response to “The Pasadena Symphony and the Zero Option” by Terry Teachout
Regional symphony orchestras make profound artistic sense to their communities, contrary to WSJ drama critic Terry Teachout’s breezy dismissal in his June 12 column. If Mr. Teachout lived in Fargo, North Dakota, rather than New York City, he might better appreciate the role that “third-tier” orchestras play in cities like mine throughout the nation. His point that orchestras’ “primary historic function has been rendered obsolete by technology” assumes that the ONLY reason to attend an orchestra concert is to hear the very best possible rendition of a particular orchestral work. Indeed, why attend a concert of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra performing a Beethoven symphony, when versions by the world’s greatest orchestras are available at your fingertips and earbuds?
Here’s why. The experience of a live orchestral concert, performed by a community’s accomplished professional musicians young and old, is a powerful shared experience that transcends recorded perfection. Sure, in a normal season, a regional orchestra offers an impressively varied mix of programming, and sometimes struggles to make ends meet. But in seasons that are not normal – in seasons that bring record-breaking floods that require every able-bodied man, woman and child within a hundred-mile radius to heave millions of sand bags in order to save the city – a symphony orchestra is much, much more.
In the spring of 2009, the Red River came within six inches of destroying Fargo. For weeks our citizens worked around the clock, exhausting their bodies but not their spirits, and literally saved the city with their bare hands and sheer determination. As the floodwaters receded, our Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra cancelled its regular concert and in its place presented two massive – and free – Community Celebration Concerts which provided an emotional and powerful shared experience for thousands of people of all ages who fought the floods. Featured speakers included Senator Byron Dorgan, and the audience-friendly selection of music (from Aaron Copland favorites to an audience sing-along of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”) had tears streaming down countless faces.
Our wonderful orchestra has creatively engaged our community in many other ways – from collecting and sharing stories of local immigrants as part of an unforgettable performance of Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” to gathering 700 young string students from across the region to take part in a residency with famed violinist Midori.
Mr. Teachout, you can keep your snotty references to “Podunk Philharmonic.” I will treasure my city’s orchestra for its embodiment of the indomitable Spirit of Fargo.
Mayor of Fargo, North Dakota