Good afternoon, and thank you to the distinguished speakers here today and to all of you listening either in person or through the livestream, for your support.
I want to begin by quoting from the speech I gave at our October rally, in which I painted a picture of a San Antonio with a healthy, vibrant symphony orchestra:
In this world, the musicians and the Symphony Society management have just agreed to a three-year contract in which the musicians have returned to the 39-week season we once had, are playing for more students in our city’s public, charter, parochial, private, and home schools than ever before, are presenting community concerts in every corner of our city, and are receiving a weekly salary that allows us time to practice our instruments and perfect our craft both in and out of rehearsal while supporting our families.
This vision is possible, this vision is desirable, this vision is right. And yet today on the six-month anniversary of our management’s wrongful imposition of destructive terms, this vision seems even further away now than it did last October.
As long as our management and board remain stuck in their irrational insistence on a ludicrously low budget requiring draconian labor cuts, a budget which cannot be supported by any evidence, a budget of under five million dollars in a metropolitan area of two and a half million people, San Antonio cannot have the orchestra it has had since 1939, an orchestra of high artistic standards combined with a love among the musicians for our community.
Even the Symphony Society’s own revenue history puts the lie to their claims that “San Antonio just won’t support an orchestra of over five million dollars.” Converting all historical dollar figures to 2022 dollars, in the past decade annual revenues have ranged from a low of six million adjusted dollars in the partial pandemic season to several seasons of nine million adjusted dollars or more.
Other cities with metropolitan areas smaller than ours are supporting their orchestras with budgets of twenty million dollars or more, in some cases much more. Kansas City, Indianapolis, Nashville, Milwaukee, even Salt Lake City, which is a much smaller metropolitan area, are able to fund orchestras which are artistically respected and financially well supported. And yet the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have been forced into this strike in an effort to preserve a budget of eight million dollars, a bare minimum to maintain a nationally respected orchestra.
San Antonio has been my adopted home since I joined the Symphony in 1988. I met my husband here; our three children were born and raised here with all three graduating from LEE High School; we own a home, we pay taxes, we volunteer in our community. We have made many San Antonio traditions our own. We love this city.
My colleagues in the Symphony have similar stories. And we cannot believe that this thriving, prospering, growing, vibrant city is so impoverished as to require the loss of its full-time symphony. We cannot believe that many tens of thousands of students in San Antonio should lose their opportunity to hear masterpieces of Western music performed by a professional symphony orchestra in a great concert hall. So many would miss out on sparking a love of classical music that can be life-changing. We cannot believe that the colleges, universities, and private music students of San Antonio should be deprived of studying with professionals at the top of their field. Finally, many of my colleagues are looking to move elsewhere, which, by the way, is already happening.
Our current board and management close their eyes and stop their ears to any information, any evidence, any logical argument that does not support their own regressive and destructive ideas. They have in the recent past dismissed advice from none other than Michael Kaiser, an arts administrator of national renown, who advised them that cuts were not, were never the solution. And they certainly aren’t listening to the musicians now.
It isn’t too late but time is very short. Either our leadership must change their thinking or we must change our leadership. San Antonio wants and deserves a full-sized, full-time, fully professional orchestra. San Antonio has the resources to support such an orchestra. But destruction is easy, restoration is difficult, and San Antonio teeters at this moment on the very brink of losing its orchestra. Let us not allow such a loss! The people, the students, the artistic collaborators in San Antonio deserve better.
-Mary Ellen Goree
Principal Violin II
Chair, Negotiating Committee