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Public ponders CSO’s future

Future of Symphonic Music forums wrap up



Dark have been my thoughts of late as I have dwelt on the grim prospect of life after CSO.

Thus I was happy to show up Tuesday evening — curiosity-on-sleeve — at West Ashley Baptist Church for the fourth and final in a series of public forums on the Future of Symphonic Music in Charleston. The project is being jointly administered by the College of Charleston, Coastal Community Foundation, and Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts.

Walking in, I was cheered to see so many familiar faces: fellow choral singers, music educators, a few students, and a sprinkling of CSO members and staffers, all on top of a hefty majority of ordinary folks who simply give a hoot about orchestral music and want to do something about keeping it around. The crowd topped 60. Here’s how the forum worked:

The crowd broke down into teams of four (sometimes five), each seated at a circular table topped with large note-sheets, pens, and three 8 by 10 envelopes. Each envelope contained a theme statement or question, plus related sub-questions. I won’t put you to sleep with a complete list of them here, but I’ll give you the general gist. Each table appointed a permanent “scribe” and discussion leader. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the assorted chocolate treats strewn liberally at each table (can you trust choco-high thinking?).  

Following introductory remarks and instructions, each table’s team got to work on the first round of discussion points and questions, with our scribes madly scribbling down our assorted thoughts, ideas, and collective conclusions. The subjects at hand for the opening round centered around the various ways in which the CSO is, or could be, of firm value to the community. The second topic explored various approaches to “ideal composition and content for symphonic music in Charleston.” The final points to ponder had to do with “sustainable commitment and support,” and the many potential ways to achieve it.

What made the whole process even more fun and interesting was that, for each new round (around 25 minutes each), we played a sedate game of non-musical chairs as all but the permanent scribe for each table rose and found a seat at one of the other tables, permitting interaction with a fresh set of faces and the minds behind them. I’m pleased to say that, in all three of my varied teams, there was much evidence of creativity, (sometimes dubious) practicality, and originality of thought that I found encouraging. It’s good to know that there are many others besides me who have reflected long and deeply on these matters. It seems we all hated to stop yakking and scribbling as each round ended.

The evening wrapped up with a brief inter-table exchange of conclusions on the basic questions at hand, and closing remarks from George Stevens, President/CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation of S.C. If you didn’t know it already, this foundation has both connections and clout. He thanked the crowd for its commitment, saying, “Your determination and enthusiasm is the first thing I’ll carry back to the foundation.” In their opening and subsequent remarks, forum facilitators Dianne Culhane and Laura Deaton informed us that our scribes’ scribblings would be compiled and synthesized in a computer database and analyzed for trends or good ideas. The result will then be considered by a steering committee that will make recommendations, subject to final public approval. I later learned that total attendance over all four forums was 400 people ... and that makes for a lot of good hearts and minds at work.

So you missed it, but still want to be a part of this worthy, yet-unfinished project? Well, future public forums are likely, and there was mention of a related online survey that should be ready soon. You can get in on the act by going to

In any case, the monkey is on our back — as an artistically aware and concerned community — to find ways to keep symphonic music in our lives. A saying that’s been bandied around lately goes something like, “A community that can’t support a quality orchestra doesn’t deserve one.” Just maybe, this forum series will turn out to be a solid first step in the fight to keep our cherished orchestra going, the music playing, and our community pride intact.   

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