Facing the Music

"Great music, no red ink" is the new refrain of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

He also believes that the amount of press the SLSO crisis has generated, both locally and nationally, is in its favor. He says a recent New York Times story about the symphony "was really a good story because it showed the whole house is running really well; there's just this 800-pound gorilla in the bathroom. But the rest of the house is really working great, so we just have to talk this 800-pound gorilla out of the bathroom and out into the yard. So the story brought great focus and told a great story about the St. Louis Symphony. That's the kind of stuff that inspires people to give -- not panic in crisis but deep and profound recognition of our reality, with a real sense of optimism of the great things that happened and the great things that are planned to come. I can't help but think that the $100 million can be raised."

Atlanta isn't St. Louis, of course, and whereas major corporations -- and their donor base -- have left this city, they've flocked to Atlanta. Home Depot, for example, recently made a $15 million down payment on ASO's new concert hall.

But St. Louis is not lacking in wealth, be it corporate or individual, and Roth and Weldon are in the planning stages of how to ask people to give as they haven't given before in this city. "Fundraising is about people," says Weldon. "It's about people having relationships with other people, contacting and talking to other people. It's very labor-intensive. You must have a great deal of patience, because donors have to be ready to make a major gift. Even though they appreciate the need and they are dedicated to the cause, they have to be ready. It takes time to get people ready to make those kinds of major gifts."

David Terrill

The musicians are getting involved, performing chamber music for small dinner parties in private homes. "They make beautiful music," says Weldon, "and they speak eloquently about the symphony and their love of it and their commitment to it. They are more powerful than any of us as spokesmen for the orchestra."

A dinner party with some of the world's best musicians performing is a luxury, of course. Yet if SLSO is to be preserved, it is the haves, not the have-nots, who must pay for it and who must recognize the value of it. And that doesn't come down to whether children get better math scores because of their music lessons or whether the symphony serves as a positive symbol for the city. It inevitably comes down to beauty and whether or not that is a luxury we all can afford.

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