I've bellyached plenty about the assorted ills of classical music: how current education curricula are failing us, how government support for the arts has dried up, and how stuffy artistic elitism has alienated the pop-obsessed mainstream. Arts advocacy in the U.S. has become ever more a matter of highbrow philanthropy: old-money endowments and stuffy foundations pick up most of the tab for hallowed major-metro institutions.
That leaves smaller regional organizations (orchestras, festivals, opera houses, ballet companies, etc.) hat-in-hand at every turn. Except for Spoleto Festival USA (basically a wealthy New York-style affair transplanted to a quaint Southern city), smaller regional institutions, including our own, have to fight for bare survival in a society that's increasingly ignorant of the classics.
But if you give a damn about the music arts and their long-term health in America, there are lots of things you can do to help. The same spirit of Yankee volunteerism that's served more noble causes than you can count can work for great music, too. Are you going to just stand idly by while your hometown symphony slowly shrivels and your community musicians starve?
Winning new audiences is a constant struggle, so we must find ways to expose people — especially youth — to good music. Kids today almost never get to hear the great composers in public classrooms. After all, their teachers never heard it in school, either. So why not shoulder a boom box and offer to spend a weekly hour playing and talking about your favorite composers at your neighborhood elementary school? Or talk to the folks at your local library or community center about teaching an informal music appreciation course.
How about resolving to win at least one new convert? If every music lover did that, the ranks would double. Invite uninitiated friends or neighbors to dinner, and play your favorite music for them — and talk to them about it. Buy them the CD if they like it. Invite them (or their kids) to a Charleston Symphony or Spoleto concert. If it doesn't take, move on to the next prospect.
Then there's good old-fashioned financial support. Not much music gets made without the green. Even if you're not wealthy, you can almost certainly afford season tickets to the CSO, or a small annual donation. There are some terrific concert series around town — like those at the College of Charleston and from various chamber music ensembles — that are always in need of fans. Why not sponsor a concert? Help send a cash-strapped prodigy to music camp or college.
Those short of cash can still offer the sweat of their brow. Few artistic organizations around here could get by without volunteer labor. Become an usher. Join a music organization's board or a committee. Help plan performances or special events, raise funds, write grants, stuff envelopes.
Don't forget hospitality — something we're supposed to be good at around here. Most musicians aren't in it for the money, so why not offer bed-and-breakfast to one of hundreds of visiting musicians who need accommodations here every year? Consider "adopting" one of the penniless foreign music students at CofC.
And I've only scratched the surface. Just look around — the opportunities are endless. The next time you catch yourself griping about cultural poverty in the Land of the Free, resolve to be one of the brave. Put your money, your muscles, or your heart where your mouth is, and get out there and do something about it.