VIDEO NO. 2: FWSO Musicians Serve Our Community
In 1977 John Giordano, Music Director of the FWSO, achieved his vision of creating a professional orchestra in Fort Worth. For almost 35 years, the orchestra moved in an upward trajectory. The orchestra members who joined in the late 70’s and 80’s were young and thrilled to get a playing job, even if it was “part-time” (30 weeks). But, as the years progressed, they saw the job continuously improve. More full-time musicians were added, weeks were added to the calendar, tours to Mexico, China and Spain were organized, residencies in Ruidoso and south Texas were established, and the Concerts in the Garden series was created. John Giordano was a tireless community advocate for the symphony. He and Executive Director, Ann Koonsman, knew everyone in town. They promoted the orchestra everywhere, even from the sidelines of their children’s sporting events. They visited with audiences in the small towns where the FWSO traveled to perform. They had a vision to make the orchestra an integral part of the community. All of this created an environment that encouraged these musicians to stay. The steady growth of the organization gave them confidence they could make a living and raise a family right here in Fort Worth.
By the late 90’s, the starting salary of the orchestra was competitive among “second tier” orchestras around the country. But the building of Bass Performance Hall improved things even more. Before it’s revitalization, downtown Fort Worth was not a place people wanted to go. The museum district and zoo were popular destinations, but downtown was rundown and unsafe. Bass Hall’s beauty and acoustic quality brought audiences, and subsequently restaurants, shopping, and residences, to create one of the most vibrant downtown areas in the country.
With the hiring of Miguel Harth-Bedoya as Music Director, the artistic growth of the symphony flourished. More full-time musicians were hired and even more weeks were added to the calendar, ensuring that the FWSO would now be considered a major orchestra of national status. The city of Fort Worth was appealing in so many ways that musicians who won jobs with the orchestra were proud their hard work had brought them such good fortune. How many professional musicians could say that they were a part of an orchestra that got better every year, and was part of the cultural movement that made north Texas a relocation destination for millions of people? The FWSO was truly a “destination” orchestra….a place where musicians could stop auditioning and put down roots.
FWSO musicians have bought homes throughout the metroplex. Their children have been educated in local schools. Many have private lesson studios, therefore contributing to making North Texas one of the strongest high school musician talent pools in the nation, or are on the faculty of local universities. They are members of local churches, athletic clubs, and social organizations. They volunteer in as many different ways as there are musicians in the orchestra. Two successful chamber music organizations have been founded, and multiple musicians have become contractors, providing the community with the benefit of professional musical talent at weddings, worship services, and corporate retreats.
Since 2010 and the initial 13.5% pay cut, things have begun to change. The season has shrunk to 46 weeks. (The latest proposal shrinks the season even further to 42 weeks, resulting in an almost 9% additional cut.) Musicians are having to file for unemployment while on furlough, and are looking for supplemental income elsewhere. Newer members are now looking outside Fort Worth to pursue more visionary artistic projects, taking leave from the FWSO season to do so. Additionally, musician salaries have now been cut to the point that moving to another market and a “better” orchestra makes sense financially. Further cuts with no solid plan for growth doesn’t give young musicians the confidence that previous generations of FWSO musicians were lucky to experience. Staying on the national audition “circuit” means musicians delay their decision to marry, have children, and make large purchases like a home. Unburdened and flexible are the better options for pursuing their career goals.
How will this affect the Fort Worth community? Perhaps the music within Bass Hall will still be satisfactory, but the community at large will suffer. High turnover won’t give Fort Worth the opportunity to get to know its musicians. Fort Worth won’t come to learn what other gifts these talented performers can bring to their community. Fort Worth students won’t have the benefit of learning from many of these musicians, because they won’t stay long enough to establish studios. The FWSO will become a place where young musicians will cut their teeth, only to take their experience elsewhere at the first opportunity.
Please take a few minutes and learn how the current members of the FWSO are woven into the fabric of the community. Join us in encouraging our community leaders to look at the 21st century as an opportunity to make the FWSO a place that talented musicians can call “home”, not just a stop on the road toward artistic greatness somewhere else.