Recession puts plans for Kannapolis Symphony on hold

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Sarah Hall
Plans for the creation of a Kannapolis Symphony Orchestra appear to have slowed from an optimistic allegro to a cautious andante, a casualty of the weakened economy.
The Salisbury Symphony’s board of directors, guided by Music Director David Hagy and Executive Director Linda Jones, have been exploring the possibility of establishing an orchestra in the Towel City turned research mecca.
Kannapolis already has strong arts supporters, and it’s anticipated the coming of the N.C. Research Campus will bring with it an influx of citizenry looking for arts opportunities.
The Salisbury Symphony has already successfully partnered with Kannapolis’ Piedmont Dance Theatre two seasons for the ballet The Nutcracker in Keppel Auditorium, demonstrating to Salisbury audiences that Kannapolis is home to a premiere ballet troupe.
Although there is no indoor venue in Kannapolis large enough to accommodate a full orchestra, plans for the new campus include a performing arts center that can double as a space for scientific conferences. But the sour economy has slowed and possibly jeopardized those plans.
Kannapolis does have Village Park Amphitheater, which hosts yearly Charlotte Symphony outdoor performances. Hagy proposed the Salisbury Symphony’s highly successful Pops at the Post concert could be replicated in the Kannapolis amphitheater by basically the same group of orchestra musicians, performing on that turf as the Kannapolis Symphony.
Plans for launching the Kannapolis Symphony this summer went down the drain along with the economy, but not because city officials in Kannapolis were unwilling to make it happen. On the contrary, they were generous in their efforts to give this musical gift to their community.
It was the symphony’s board of directors that determined it would be imprudent to proceed this year. They did not believe they should allow the city of Kannapolis to foot the whole bill, and they felt the orchestra’s current financial status made prospects too risky.
Salisbury Symphony isn’t unique in falling victim to the rough economic climate. The same is true for most performing organizations, since they depend on grants, endowments and patrons to survive, and all of these sources of funding are down. People continue to attend concerts, but major performing organizations get only a small percentage of income from ticket sales.
Budget cuts affect choice of repertoire, programming works that require fewer performers and fewer rehearsals. But that can lead to out-of-work musicians and stage hands.
When Linda Jones drew up her conservative budget draft for the coming symphony season, she avoided cutting musicians. Instead, she and Hagy decided to cut some rehearsals. And there are no salary increases for musicians.
Hagy even offered to take a pay cut, but Jones is hoping it won’t come to that. The symphony’s final version of next season’s budget won’t be approved until a vote in May.
In the meantime, the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s budget is being watched carefully. If there is an elimination of field trips, that will mean no visit by the N.C. Symphony to play for all fifth-graders this year, a 40-year tradition co-sponsored by the Symphony Society and the school system.
Since the school system budget is determined later than the symphony’s, this makes financial forecasting more difficult for the symphony’s planners.
Hagy isn’t letting the postponement of the Kannapolis Symphony and economic woes keep him from having dreams for the orchestra he has led for over 20 years. He has a list called “Dreams Before I Retire,” which includes making an impact in the Kannapolis area but deals mostly with venue issues.
His dreams especially involve Catawba’s Keppel Auditorium, the symphony’s most frequent performance space. There’s a need for better acoustical shells, one of the more achievable dreams.
And Hagy yearns for improvements to the auditorium’s orchestra pit. There are holes in the concrete floor where hydraulics were supposed to have been installed to make the pit adjustable. Decades ago, when the auditorium was built, the hydraulic plans were abandoned due to cost overruns. Hagy explains that now, if his dream were to be realized, the pit would be equipped with a more modern pneumatic system.
The orchestra required for Nutcracker performances actually spilled out on both sides of the stage since the pit could not contain the entire ensemble. Hagy says the entire orchestra would fit in the pit if part of it were not being used as storage space. So another of his dreams is for Catawba’s theatre department to have more storage space elsewhere.
And Hagy’s dreams extend to Livingstone College as well, with improvements for Varick Auditorium, another symphony venue.
But for the time being, attention needs to be paid not to improvements, but to economic survival. Finding themselves $10,000 in the red this past January, the symphony has had to make cuts to the current season, including cancellation of plans for a part-time paid intern and elimination of youth orchestra coaches.
When the symphony’s education initiatives get cut, the effects can be felt even after the economy gets back on its feet. As one concert-goer mused, “If music education is cut now, who will be prepared to perform for the audience of the future when times aren’t so hard?”