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Pauline Lerner

February 10, 2005 at 5:51 AM

I love playing in community symphony orchestras, and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good opportunities and experiences, starting when I was in high school. There is so much joy in learning music from the inside outwards. Through music we can connect with so many other people, people we know and people we are separated from in time and/or space. Unfortunately, music can also be a vehicle for ego conflicts. Such conflicts has been going on in several community orchestras in my area including, unfortunately, the one I play in.

I’m personally opposed to elitism in music and elsewhere. Of course, some people and some groups play better than others, but that’s not the point. The point is that there is, or should be, a place for all of us to contribute our best. An orchestra can be a microcosm for life. It is a place where we all need to listen to each other, cooperate with each other, and put the achievement of the orchestra over our own individual achievements.

There are a few Elitists with big Egos who are jockeying for control in our orchestra. I can’t help but think of the analogy of alpha male dogs. Mr. EE is one of them. He is a perfectionist and a high achiever, and he has been frustrated with our community orchestra for a long time because the quality isn’t up to his standards. There are other community orchestras in this area where the level of expertise is higher and closer to his own, and he plays in one of them. He has announced that he and the other EEs are setting an example of high standards for the rest of us to follow. He believes that most of the players don’t really care about their playing. This is such an insult! I couldn’t disagree more. Most of us love playing music, want to sound as good as we can, are quite willing to work at it, and take great pleasure in improving our performance. I suggested having sectional rehearsals and getting guidance from first chair players on bowing, fingering, intonation, dynamics, and more. He dismissed my suggestion out of hand. He seems to favor allowing only EEs to play in our orchestra.

He has said that paid professionals are better than people who play because they love it. I suppose that he hasn’t noticed that he is not a paid professional musician. He wants to recruit paid leaders and change the character of the orchestra entirely. We have discussed this issue many times at meetings and informally. Our conductor has said that if the job paid, he wouldn’t want it. The orchestra would become money driven. We would have to audition all the players, charge substantially for admission to performances, and perform music which would sell to a broad audience. We would have to get serious about getting grants to keep the orchestra running. We would lose our tax exempt status and be required to keep financial records which would pass audit. The whole orchestra would become more exclusive and less fun.

The ego conflicts are becoming more apparent. Mr. EE has made some power plays. He has said and done some things that really did not need to be said or done for substance. He is making the point, “I’m in charge.” The conflicts are terrible for morale.

I’m feeling sick as I write this. There is antiphony and cacophony where harmony should reign. I love my orchestra, my friends who play in it, our conductor, and the whole experience of learning and playing together. I look forward to every rehearsal. Even if I’m having a hard time elsewhere in my life, I know that I’ll feel much better during and after the rehearsal. There are others in the orchestra who feel the way I do. I would feel absolutely terrible if I lose the wonderful experience I have.

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