Although I am a daily Chicago Tribune reader, this short article escaped my notice. Double bassist Jerry Fuller brought it to my attention, and I’m glad he did, because it really highlights the priorities a donor may have in choosing an organization for their philanthropy. Much of what is discussed below the quote comes from my conversation with Jerry.
The article states:
Nancy Knowles has been a big fan of opera since childhood. Now, opera is a big fan of hers.
The former chairwoman of Itasca-based Knowles Electronics Inc. said she has inked in her will a bequest of $10 million to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Lyric said it would be the largest single donation in its 53-year history.
“I love the Lyric,” she said. “I think it is a very classy organization. I think it is well run. I think they do a fabulous job of fundraising — they don’t leave an extra nickel in your pocket. I’ve been to other opera houses, but the Lyric, it’s just gorgeous.”
Let’s examine these quotes a little more closely. Why has she picked the Lyric for this financial gift?
- Classy organization
- They do a fabulous job of fundraising
- It’s gorgeous—other opera houses don’t compare
Again, this is the largest single donation in Lyric’s 53 year history, and look at the factors that influenced Ms. Knowles’ decision:
- Classy organization –> Administration
- Well-run –> Administration
- Fabulous fundraising –> Administration
- Gorgeous building –> long-dead architects
It is instructive to note that this gift was given as a result of Ms. Knowles’ perception of the Lyric’s administration—not the singers, repertoire, conductor, or (perish the thought) the orchestra. No, the administration, with early 20th century architecture running a distant second, is responsible for this gift.
It makes you wonder what audiences really take away from a typical musical performance. Do they remember the orchestra? Probably not—they are dimly aware, if at all, that there are living, breathing musicians hidden down in the inky blackness of the pit. How about the conductor? Usually not. What about the singers? Outside of a rarefied few, probably not them either. Heck, my high school students often can’t remember the name of the opera they saw on their annual concert going field trip, let alone details like composer or performers.
Honestly, most audience members take in an overall experience, with dinner, wine, the hall, and conversations between their fellow companions intermingling with the music to create a pleasant evening of entertainment.
And who’s to judge if that’s right or wrong? If people’s fondest memories of a concert are architecture and administration, who’s to say that it’s an incorrect or improper means of enjoyment?
Not me, certainly. After all, you won’t be seeing me donating $10 million dollars to anything any time soon! And if one person’s enjoyment of this organization leads to this kind of gift (and all of the additional ventures made possible by such a contribution), fantastic!
Still, this kind of news gives performers like me, grinding away obsessively on tricky passages, a reality check regarding their overall importance in the world of music. Maybe I’ll think about this the next time I get discouraged while practicing.
To 99.99% of the population, these licks don’t amount to a hill of beans!
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