April 26, 2007


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Publisher's Note: Where’s our Scotch?
By Jody Reese

This week’s Hippo cover story is about classical music—an unfamiliar topic to a lot of people, me included. But even if you don’t know a bassoon from a bassinet, classical music is important to you, and to all of southern New Hampshire, for a lot of reasons.

Yes, it’s one of the great art forms and has its loyal supporters. But looking beyond the actual concerts themselves, the presence of classical music is also key indicator of the relative health of a community’s local arts and cultural scene. At its best, a city’s orchestra is a matter of civic pride; at the very least, it’s a powerful business development asset, especially in today’s knowledge/creative economy.

And that’s what scares me about this week’s cover story. With the recent demise of the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra, Manchester stands as one of the largest cities in North America without a professional symphony orchestra.

Like it or not, that’s a black eye that can make a difference when companies and entrepreneurs evaluate where to start or relocate operations. All things being equal, quality-of-life issues such as the vibrancy of a region’s local cultural scene can be deciding factors.

On that score, we’re definitely the loser. Yes, there’s a lot of classical music in the area, with other groups still sawing away throughout the region. But if we can’t match cities such as Portland, Maine or Springfield, Mass. with a professional orchestra, then Manchester and all of southern New Hampshire stands to suffer.

To put it in terms I can relate to: a city without a symphony orchestra is like a home bar without any Scotch. It’s basic inventory.

I’m no expert, but one thing seems obvious from this week’s cover story: the region has too many groups competing for limited audience and institutional support.

No one planned this and it’s no one’s fault, but the classical music scene is splintered into so many factions with differing and sometimes competing agendas, it just doesn’t add up to what it could be. As a business model, it’s close to insane.

What to do? Some backers have pushed a new business model that has potential. The goal: a single high-quality professional orchestra that would not only fill the gap in Manchester, but would also serve all of New Hampshire as a fine arts flagship.

As described by one supporter in this week’s cover story, such an orchestra could become a major regional asset. It would allow more and better concerts in more places, have a better chance at attracting all-important institutional support, and in general give more bang for the classical buck.

The trick is to get everyone singing from the same page. Judging from recent history, that’s not about to happen—not unless new leadership from the business community recognizes what’s at stake and steps in to make it happen.

Any takers?