My Turn, Linda Jones: Here’s where symphony and Harvey disagreed

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 14, 2018

My goodness! It was less than a year ago when the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra was celebrating — along with citizens of Rowan County — that we had flourished as a professional orchestra for 50 straight years. Only five other communities our size in this whole country can match that.

And, yes, the orchestra could not have flourished this long without the support of this community. We work together. Consider “Nutcracker” with Piedmont Dance Theatre, “Pops at the Post” with the city and Salisbury Post, “Les Miserables” with Piedmont Players Theatre, “Requiem” with multiple choral societies, Rowan-Salisbury School System with the After-School Strings music education program, “Tickle Our Ivories” with individuals, to name a recent few.

When James Dane Harvey interviewed for the position of executive director, the Salisbury Symphony Orchestr hired him because he promised new ideas for “popularizing classical music” (his thesis topic).

Here was someone who could help us reach others in our community who had not yet experienced classical music — the symphony’s main goal. (The mission statement used to begin “The Salisbury-Rowan Symphony Society strives to share its excitement in orchestral music by 1) presenting high-quality, varied, and often collaborative, performances…”).

Fifty years of “varied” and “collaborative” concerts have been shared with our community and those around us. Many of our citizens have come to expect concerts that would match the quality of those presented in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Hickory and Greensboro.

It costs a lot of money to put the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra on the stage, and our musicians and staff are not paid what surrounding orchestra members and staff are paid. Musicians continue to perform here for us, though, because of their respect for David Hagy, and his for them. Though David is paid as only a part-time employee, he works full-time to cut costs, often paying for “extras” that he feels strongly would make an even better performance and for which there is no money in the budget to support it.

Enter Mr. Harvey. He had many ideas, and he wanted to put all of them in place immediately: changing the office location, logo, mission statement (it no longer mentions “classical” music), and voting procedure for new board members, deleting the North Carolina Symphony concert from the concert series, and changing the music education program — a lot of big changes in a short amount of time.

Nevertheless, the board, David Hagy and staff members tried to work with James to implement these changes, ensuring a smooth move into the future. It was when James began to insist on programming changes that resistance arose.

His goal, it seemed, was not to “popularize classical music,” but to substitute symphony concerts with other kinds of music events. The number of concerts that you would enjoy by our orchestra musicians would be cut. Even with a small increase in pay that was promised for next season, the loss of even one concert would affect each musician’s pocketbook. Wouldn’t you be tempted to perform with some other orchestra that pays you more, and more often? Salisbury would eventually — and maybe not gradually — lose what our past mayor called one of Salisbury’s “gems.”

Substituting “popular” music events for classical music events is certainly an easier way “out.” It’s much harder to “share the excitement in orchestral music” with a community when most members are in the fifth grade before they attend their very first classical concert. Popularizing classical music begins in music education.

The final blow came when Mr. Harvey asked for a major raise for next season, and he wouldn’t negotiate. This mindset runs counter to the values of a nonprofit person who believes in the work s/he is doing: You don’t work for a non-profit in order to get rich. To me, it seemed Mr. Harvey was caring more for Mr. Harvey than for the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Harvey came with some wonderful ideas. I feel sure that the Board of Directors, given a non-divisive environment in which to consider them, will move forward with the best ones — together! And we will continue to benefit from this exceptional gem.

Linda Jones is former executive director of the Salisbury Symphony.

My Turn submissions of 500-700 words may be sent to letters@salisburypost.com. Please include writer’s name, address, phone number and, if possible, photo.

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