“In 2003, the San Antonio Symphony was again plagued with financial difficulties and canceled the last few concerts of the season. The Symphony declared bankruptcy, and the board of directors spent the 2003-2004 season reworking the Symphony’s business plan” Yes, that was nearly twenty years ago. It resides in memory because, as some of you may recall, another unwelcome viral guest, the known principally by its acronym SARS (but today, more accurately called SARS-Covid) had made its appearance in 2002. I’m not going to say that people didn’t take it terribly seriously, at least here, but I had friends in the orchestra who were accustomed to making dubious jokes about its spread among section plays of a certain ancestry. No, Trump did not invent “Wu flu,” although its consequences, plainly, have demonstrated what happens when you stupidly politicize a public health issue. We hadn’t quite advanced to that stage of political ignominy yet in the United States. Yet.
I can’t remember if SARS had much to do with the financial problems of the Symphony back then, although the Symphony had already enjoyed a history of financial problems. I was, however, a lot more involved, because I was then the parent of two aspiring musicians, both of whom ended up studying with symphony players. One of them, my daughter Rosie, is now a freelance classical bassist living in Berlin. So, in a manner of speaking, I came by interest in the Symphony’s finances honestly. A lot of the players were frustrated, and my daughter’s teacher, a brilliant player from Curtis, was actively involved in the negotiations. He was not happy. It was already becoming apparent that classical music in the United States was in for a rough ride, and that, perhaps, there were questions as to whether or not what was then regarded as a quintessentially white, European art form had much future in a part of the country where the emerging majority, may or may not have been called white, but their roots were in Latin America, not Europe.
I remember being really frustrated, not to say irritated by the discussion, because after living in Mexico and spending significant time in Latin America, I really hadn’t noticed that “classical” music had no audience. Actually, in Mexico, it seemed to be quite the contrary, and while it certainly wasn’t popular music, well, the Boss Jocks at WFIL 56 didn’t exactly spin Rachmaninoff to an eager audience either. So, you figured, why would it be that people in San Antonio or the Southwest wouldn’t support symphonies? Other than quoting Oprah Winfrey about blacks not liking classical music–I’ll let the irony sink in once more about generic people of color in America–nobody could give me much of an answer. “Ah, it’s a working class town,” some savant cautioned me. Well, sorry, but I came from a working class family in Philadelphia that listened not only to jazz and pop, but to opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra too. I won’t say that Eugene Ormandy was a household deity or anything, but I don’t think we were exactly unique in regarding him as part of the panoply of civic institutions. So, long story short, my reaction was “this discussion is ignorant, patronizing and misleading at best.” At worst, it was vaguely racist, and I don’t throw that term around lightly.
So, well and surely ticked off, I wrote a piece whose intent was satirical. It was to suggest that San Antonio, by virtue of its proximity to Mexico, was remarkably well positioned to support a symphony orchestra if only the city leaders exercised a little imagination.
Welp, I sent it everywhere I could think of here, including the underground press. No one would touch it. I sent it to Nexos in Mexico thinking it might give someone a laugh. Nada. Now people who read it were really complimentary, it circulated among some of the orchestra people, and yeah, a couple thought it was hilarious. It was intended to be funny, but I guess no one got the joke. There were no blogs in 2003. You couldn’t inflict your half-baked ideas and crummy prose on some captive audience, much less a volunteer one. So, alas, you put such ephemera aside, chalking their production up to experience. Teechur writers, as Gore Vidal called us, get accustomed to rejection pretty quickly anyway. Or you don’t last.
In any event, now that I am retired, and having stumbled across of a copy of the text of the piece, I figured, “Hey, why not?” I’m not touching a word of it, and I’m going to make sure that my colleagues in Mexico get to read it. It proves that we are dos paises nunca distantes. Or something like that. You can download it here.