June 23, 2020
Dear Symphony Supporter:
I am writing to advise you that the Monroe Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Board has voted to suspend in-person performances for this season and postpone the celebratory 50th season activities until the 2021-22 season that begins June 1, 2021. The ‘perfect storm’ of COVID-19 impacts that have affected — and are still affecting — us, and our community as individuals and businesses, make it impossible for us to effectively or confidently plan. Anything. Combined with the loss of our Executive Director, we find the organization at a uniquely fragile point. The impacts to which I refer are human and financial, and — in the interest of clarity — I will briefly describe them. First, the human factors beginning with MSO itself.
The loss of our Executive Director: While we all wish him great success, the loss of our beloved and super-competent Executive Director Dr. Craig West to a much better paying position just before the beginning of the 2020-21 season, leaves the organization without the knowledgeable and paid boots-on-the-ground full-time-job hours to handle the variety of critical day-to-day activities required to plan, produce and successfully promote a season.
Orchestra Members & Venue Considerations: The needs and requirements to plan for appropriately social distanced rehearsal and performance spaces is challenging for MSO in all of the same ways that you are hearing businesses, schools and universities are challenged. Add to that, the scores of unique health and safety needs and concerns of individual players and the issues multiply exponentially.
MSO’s Executive Board, Board of Governors & Volunteers: our volunteers have never been less able or available to take on all of the Executive Director’s day-to-day activities or fulfill even the roles they have fulfilled for MSO in the past. The demands of full-time jobs, work from home/educate children at home, kids’ summer activity cancellations, etc.; the need for many of our volunteers who are at greater risk (due to age or pre-existing health conditions) to follow the most conservative of restrictive guidelines; these — in one way or another, and to greater and lesser degrees — impact literally every board member and volunteer upon whom we depend. Frankly, many are just plain exhausted and overwhelmed and unable to rise to meet the organization’s needs right now.
MSO’s Patrons & Fans: all symphonic music organizations’ fan bases skew toward the upper end of the age range. Many of our biggest supporters are the most at risk from the effects of the pandemic and are staying at home.
Financial: Many businesses have been so financially impacted by COVID-19 that advertising and sponsorship dollars are simply not available. And the same is true for many individuals who would purchase memberships or tickets. After accepting the generosity of those who left last season’s ticket, ad and sponsorship dollars with us, it is insensitive at best and unethical at worst to ask for more money now without the ability to promise delivery of a great season of music.
MSO is among those small, lean organizations that survive season-to-season with very little financial cushion. Additionally, the shutdown and continuing restrictions caught the organization at a time we do not have (and cannot confidently predict that we will be able to raise) the money to guarantee the security of even one full season’s employment to a new executive director.
I know that I speak for the entire Executive Committee when I say that I am terribly disappointed to deliver this news to you. In fact, the Executive Committee’s desire to serve the community with a season of some sort is evidenced by its enthusiastic intention to offer “pop up” performances during the coming 12 months should circumstances allow.
Finally, a bit of light in this dark picture: Every situation offers opportunity, and the perfect storm of negatives engendered by the pandemic is no exception. You may or may not have heard that there is a move afoot (and enthusiasm for) redefining the symphony’s mission; to continue the expansion of musical offerings and educational outreach begun last year, with the goal of attracting a broader fan and supporter base in order to serve the entire northeast region of the state. South Louisiana has the Louisiana Philharmonic and the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra; Southwest Louisiana has the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra; the Shreveport Symphony serves the northwest portion of the state; but northeast Louisiana as a whole has nothing like this. There is data to support the premise that MSO can advance from surviving to thriving for the 50 years ahead if it follows the lead of symphonies worldwide to offer classical and pop symphonic music and music education to all of the people it has the reach to serve. For us, that may mean the entire Northeast Louisiana region. It may (or may not) happen; and if it does happen, it may mean a new name and mission statement for the organization.
In short, this perfect storm pandemic and the decision to postpone the season creates a fallow time and offers the perfect opportunity for us to bring in all of our stakeholders and seriously consider this proposition.
We will continue to reach out to our members, fans, patrons, advertisers, contributors and to the public via social and traditional media to let everyone know about the 50th season postponement. After we have a few weeks to obtain stakeholder input and make a decision about the expansion and outreach to Northeast Louisiana, and if that move is a “go”, we’ll begin getting that message out as well.
Thank you for your support and for the time it took you to read this. If you have any questions or concerns, you can reach me at email@example.com or or 703.966.6227.
Phyllis Horne, President
MSO Board of Governors