Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why I Advocate for the Arts

By Audrey J. Szychulski, Executive Director

The small girl sat at the front of her section strumming her instrument with wild childish pleasure.  A bright smile shown on her face for all the world to see.  She was filled with joy from the wonders of her precious cello.

The seasons changed and the girl grew older.  She moved onto a larger more advanced orchestra with many others much older than she.  The girl now took her seat in the back of the section.  She was scared, nervous, and anxious all at once.  Overwhelming piece after overwhelming piece sat upon her stand, each of these more difficult than any she had ever played before.  But she was determined to be able to perform them all with a minimal amount of mistakes… no one’s perfect…. The pleasure of the lush, full sound of her instrument was all the reward she needed.

Years passed and the girl aged.  One bright day the blonde, still petite teenager walked into the rehearsal room; a room, like many, where she had spent thousands of hours. She took her seat now at the front of the section, a seat to be proud of, and felt a great deal of accomplishment. Since she had first sat down behind a cello, she had been through thousands of hours of lessons, rehearsals for orchestras, for trios, for quartets, with choruses, with bands, etc., concerts too numerous to count, music theory and history classes galore, learning and teaching at music camps, and had toured dozens of states and countries.  She sat there as her slender, nimble fingers glided up and down the neck of her cello and she let that bright childish smile of hers cross her face.

I hardly have the chance to play anymore.  As an Undergraduate, I went to college to be a music educator.  I wanted to give every child the chance to have the same wonderful experiences that I have had and continue to have from a life devoted to the arts.  For the about 9 years during and after college, I was mainly a self-employed musician and a private lesson instructor.  I was blessed to have students who overflowed with talent, delight, and excitement.  They understood that music was not just notes, cognitive and mechanical. Music is the joy, the pleasure, and the self-satisfaction that rewards the aesthetic and artistic soul.  My students understood that it is also about the bonds it creates between people and how it brings us closer as human beings.  I was an individual who for many years was privileged to see my students one on one on a weekly basis.  My students ranged in ages from 3 to 70.  We started by sharing music but we shared lives…  I was their confidant for their secrets, their support for aging, their sharer of new experiences, joy, grief, births, deaths, first loves, crisis, the challenging what do I do when I grow up, and just plain life and they were my greatest joys and hardships on a daily basis.  They made me a better person; they made me love music and life even more because of what they each gave to me as individuals.

I originally became an arts administrator by accident.  There was an opening with a small professional orchestra for a Manager of Education, Community Partnerships, and Operations and someone else decided to send in my information.  Oddly, they hired me.  And even more oddly when my boss announced that he was leaving for a larger orchestra they decided I should be in charge.  When I first walked into the rehearsal room of that bigger orchestra I was scared, nervous, and anxious… but I was also determined.  There were ups and downs, there was more schooling by choice (an Arts Administration Masters), there was life, economy, change, challenges, and moves to other symphonies, bigger symphonies, and to new states… What my students taught me was that I do a job not for me; I do a job so that I can give others what music gave me.  As the Executive Director of a Philharmonic, I now work everyday to give that to an entire community.

I work to serve the community, to reach new audiences, to serve the underprivileged, to educate, to help heighten an art form, to bring joy and excitement, and above all to spread bright childish smiles…

I advocate for the arts for many reasons. Yes, I know that the non-profit arts industry generates $166.2 billion annually in economic activity and I don’t understand why business minded people don’t take notice to the fifth largest industry in the United States and one that employs twice as many people as the American auto industry… and I tell politicians this often and loudly.... but I do not advocate because of those who choose to not understand. I advocate because I share a bond with the 5.7 million people who work in the arts and who, I am positive, have devoted their lives to the arts for many of the reasons I have. We share many of the same life experiences, we live and love with few boundaries, we do this for others, and we cannot imagine any other way that we would want to spend our lives. Our bank accounts will never be large, but our lives are rich and full every day.

Please, in a time where arts funding is being cut left and right, please, tell many why you advocate for the arts. -

Please help!

By Ken Johnston, Concertmaster

On a different note...
   Being a musician, I’m allowed to tell you this, and maybe you already guessed it- artists in general are terrible at the business of life. I wish I were different, but I’ve come to accept it. I’ll submit everything I know to the IRS this year as always, and keep my fingers crossed that Turbo Tax got it all right. My checking account remains more or less balanced, I’ve finally managed to stay on top of a schedule that is not in the least structured, I do make oil changes on time, and this might be the limit to my pragmatism. (Or maturity, if you must...) I will never manage to get to bed at any reasonable hour, I still find my keys in the front door where I left them the night before, and once, after puzzling over why a credit card company didn’t credit a payment I’d made, I found a soggy envelope in the driver’s side door of my car. Months earlier, I had stuck a check in it, took it to send in the mail, and promptly forgot all about it. 
   I’m used to seeing this in many of my colleagues. It comes from some sort of inability to think logistically through life. One of the greatest violin teachers in the world appeared in his conservatory to teach, and a few minutes later emerged downstairs at the front desk, looking abashed. He had forgotten the room number of his own studio. I remember a great player who was on the phone in the hallway of my school. This was back when phones actually had cords on them, and as he spoke, someone walking behind him said hello. He twisted his body to respond, and then someone else walked by. He turned and twisted, saying hi to all who passed, and then panicked, realizing that the cord was wrapped umpteen times around his own torso. He yelped, fought the thing, and finally fell on his rear end, bringing the entire cord out of the phone. I know great musicians who have finally figured out what “autofill” is on a computer, others who had to be told that the tires on their cars don’t last forever, and ALL of us, in our early days of freelancing and driving from town to town, remember the feeling of agony that crept through us when we realized that we had double booked a gig! In fact, this is all part of our history. It was said about Mozart that you could steal his wallet anytime- he’d never find out. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schubert; all seemed to suffer from the same “life” affliction. Even Leonard Bernstein dug a few holes for himself. He managed to do incredible things at 5:00 in the morning, mainly because they needed to be done by 9:00 and he hadn’t gotten around to them before then.
  Obviously there is a pattern here. Strangely enough, however, musicians are working very hard while their heads are in the clouds. My friends and I come to Erie from several cities to perform. If I’m in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, or Cleveland, I can share stories of the Avalon, Molly Brannigans, Pufferbellies, the Warner, etc... One of the tragedies of being a classical musician lies in the fear that we are distant characters in tuxes and gowns, floating in and out of a town speaking an old dead language. (The “old” part has some truth to it. I have spent all of my life, almost 24/7, with one piece of technology that hasn’t changed much in 400 years- a violin.) None of us in performing have chosen this field for the wealth. What we do has required, in most cases, two degrees in music, a lifetime of lessons, and practice every day. More important than these are two more things that musicians share. First, this is the only thing that we’ve ever wanted to do! Second, we know that the thing we do is significant. I remember being very young, gripping the bed at night listening to the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony, Scheherazade, Mozart piano concerti, Sibelius symphonies,Tosca, etc.... (I can vividly remember repertoire that my parents have probably forgotten that they ever played for me on record.) When I was a kid, these were the most thrilling things in the world. I have gotten to know a bit more music as an adult, but I still feel the same about them. Next year will be the fifth time that I’ve performed the Pathetique, but I’m still getting to know it, and when I perform it, what I want is for people to hear it the way I do.
 Lately, of course, all of us tired of hearing of economic issues. We aren’t all that sympathetic, and this of course is because all of us are in the same mess together! With this mind, however, I’d like to ask your help. Speaking about the National Endowment for the Arts is like speaking about someone very sick and on life support. We wonder when it’s time will come. I learned recently three things.....
1. that the federal government spends $1.4 billion every year on the arts. I was surprised to hear however that arts   organizations, through taxes, give back $12.6 billion. Even the dismal business side of my brain can see that this is a good investment. 
2.     The National Endowment for the Arts awards grants to a state on condition that the state give money as well.
3.    In partnership with the NEA, state arts agencies awarded 24,000 grants to 18,000 organizations, schools, and artists in more than 5,100 communities across the United States.
So, my point.....
Urge Members of Congress to Support the NEA
Tell Them the Arts Mean Jobs!
Every time I walk onstage, I can recognize many of you. It is an unfortunate thing about the ritual of a classical music concert that seems to make for a wall between performer and audience. Please know that as performers, we are in fact playing for you, not just ourselves, and I’d be grateful if you had a moment to help by writing a message of support.
Who to Contact

pastedGraphic.pdfSenator Bob Casey (D-PA) 
pastedGraphic_1.pdfSenator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA) 
pastedGraphic_2.pdfRepresentative Mike Kelly (R-PA 3rd) 
How to Make Contact
The quickest and recommended way to contact is through the Americans for the Arts website.  
Please use this link to send your message electronically:
Messages from this site will be sent to all three of the elected officials above.  After your message is sent you will also be given the opportunity to invite others to send a message also.