For more than 80 years, the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra has been an orchestra steeped in the community, dedicated to providing live classical music for the cultural enhancement of the community and affording the opportunity for local musicians to play the great orchestral works. We share our Music Director and many of our musicians with other area orchestras. Approximately two-thirds of the musicians are paid; about one-third are talented musicians, who volunteer their services and perform without pay. This mixture is unique in the area, but was integral in our inception. We were preparing for the celebrations surrounding our April 6 concert, we had the chance to do some digging into the historical files, turning up a newspaper article from the April 1940 issue of the Schenectady Gazette:
The Schenectady Symphony Orchestra…has among its personnel of 70 musicians both people whose major occupation is with music and many who have other work but turn to music as recreation or as a means of personal expression. The orchestra includes 38 professional musicians, players who are members of the Musicians Union…the amateurs, 32 in number, include several musicians of high ability and many younger players for whom the orchestra provides a rich and rewarding experience in ensemble playing and orchestral interpretation and technique.
Not only do the 70 men and women of the Schenectady Symphony orchestra (sic) differ widely in age and experience but they offer a wide variety of talents and occupations. There are teachers of music in colleges, high schools and conservatories throughout this district. There are several who teach privately or who are prominent in school music. These and the musicians who regularly play for the various broadcasting studios or in professional ensembles and orchestras constitute about one-third of the orchestra.
There are also teachers whose main field is not music and engineers scientists and research men for whom music is a real hobby. Men whose everyday work is in mathematics, acoustics ceramics, central station commercial engineering, chemistry, theoretical physics, etc., find pleasure in playing with the orchestra an din helping to weld together a finer and finer musical organization under Mr. Kelley’s direction.
A large group of young people who are either still in school or college or who have recently graduated, totaling about another third of the orchestra, not only are gaining valuable experience but doing their part in adding to the cultural life of our community. Men from the shops. technologists, clerks, a farmer or two, a few housewives, a real estate dealer, an artist, a retired member of the New York Philharmonic now teaching in this district and some older men with years of band and orchestra experience complete the list.
All are fired with enthusiasm for the orchestra and what it is doing. Now that the orchestra has passed through its period of growing pains the personnel is proud of the orchestra and what it has been able to accomplish in welding itself into an expressive and articulate unit under its conductors.
That composition remains in today’s orchestra, making it different from our other regional symphonies. As we talked about a few months ago, we are blessed to have several other superb orchestral groups in the area. Yet the Schenectady Symphony remains the only professional symphony in the area which routinely permits “amateurs” to perform. Why would people play without being paid – and why should it matter?
“Music provides an expressive, creative release, creating a balance that’s unrelated to the rest of my profession, and which would be unavailable to me without the Schenectady Symphony.” — Janet Hutchison, owner, The Open Door Bookstore, and Violinist, SSO “…I am an amateur musician in the purest possible Latin 101 sense. I play because I love to play, and money has never come into the discussion. Period. … My only concern in the perennial cost-cutting fever is the fear that …our paid cousins…might wander off into greener pastures, or go without work. There are musicians in the SSO … who have taken the brave step to make a living from their musicianship, and I worry about them. For myself, when I survey the stage before a concert and look at all the gleaming brass and the polished wood, I am reminded that I am a member of a privileged class, and that is enough for me.” — Dr. Charles Stamm, retired Bass Player, former President of SSO
It seems clear that there is an advantage to the player to have an orchestra to perform with, but what is the advantage to the community? Having this mixture allows Schenectady to maintain an orchestra, which would otherwise be an unaffordable proposition. Opportunities for musicians to play are precious, because they gather and unite people in a circle of connection within the greater community. Whether you’re a scientist, surgeon, business owner first and a musician second – or the other way around — the opportunity to play establishes connections within the community. A resident symphony in Schenectady enhances Schenectady’s appeal to employees, both as audience and as potential players.
What do you think? Is there a value to the mixture of professionals and amateurs? How does a resident symphony enhance Schenectady’s appeal? Let us know.