One of the final articles I worked on in 2014 was a story about the imminent demise of Orchestra London Canada. Published in The London Yodeller in mid-December, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can still read it here.
This was a unique assignment in many ways.
If you are one of the few people who pays attention to by-lines, you’ll notice that the story was co-authored by myself and friend and colleague Richard Young. In a decade of writing, this was my first collaboration. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, involving animated conversation, plenty of background research, and many interviews. In the end, we had too much material for our word-count, so Richard did the writing and I got out my ‘red pencil’ to cut things down to size.
(Writing Tip: Always stick to your assigned word-count. It’s better to do your own word cull than rely on an editor who may leave your beautifully-crafted copy in shreds.)
This story was also close to my heart. As a former oboist, I completed my journalism internship with Orchestra London’s marketing department, and was hired by the organization upon graduation from J-school in 2004.
I continued to write press releases and other marketing and development copy for the orchestra on a freelance basis until August 2009, when I decided it was time to move on from what had become a toxic work environment.
(Work/Life Tip: When a client causes sleepless nights on a regular basis, it’s time to fire them.)
But I’ve kept in touch with several former colleagues, including many of the musicians.
That brings us to last night, and a concert given by the Musicians of Orchestra London as a thank-you to their audience and as a plea to the community to help them find a way to keep the music alive.
You can read a review by Brian Hay here.
The evening was a sell-out, and a veritable love-in for classical music in London.
Luckily our newly-elected Mayor and a few City Councillors were there to see and hear it. (Hopefully they also heard the clanking church pipes and realized that at some point London does need a purpose-built performance venue if it wants to be taken seriously as a ‘world class’ city.)
But after last night’s good vibes dissipate, the orchestra’s musicians are still left wondering: How am I going to pay my bills? Some have already moved on to new ventures, and many others must seriously be considering their future options.
The board has gone silent, and seems to be hoping that someone will magically appear to pay their debts – the most pressing ones owed to Revenue Canada.
Bankruptcy seems inevitable, and many are calling for a financial audit.
Going broke would allow the orchestra to walk away from almost $1 million in accumulated debt, and an untenable union contract with IATSE.
It would also disqualify the orchestra from receiving Federal or Provincial arts funding for up to seven years.
The City of London has already said it won’t step in with emergency funding – probably the right decision given the murky circumstances surrounding this financial crisis.
But it could continue to provide a new ensemble with the annual $500,000 grant previously given to Orchestra London Canada. Then, perhaps other community agencies like the London Community Foundation could kick in some financial support, along with local businesses who understand that culture is an important piece of London’s economic puzzle.
A true partnership could be built between a future orchestra and Western University’s Faculty of Music, ensuring that players are also employed to teach the next generation. (Orchestra London’s top salary was about $26,000 – so members have always had to find additional revenue sources)
A new orchestra would have to be lean and mean. It would need the flexibility to create concerts that make the orchestra an integral part of the community, and that make financial sense.
But as last night’s concert proved, the Musicians of Orchestra London can do a lot more than play. They organized a sold-out event on a shoestring budget. They understand their craft, and they know how to reach their audience.
Conductor Uri Mayer said he chose to close the evening with Beethoven’s 5th because the Roman numeral V was a ‘v’ for victory – the victory of music.
Last night, the Musicians of Orchestra London won the battle for the hearts of their core audience. Let’s hope London has the imagination to give them the financial and moral support needed to win the war.