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Sound of Charlotte Blog

Double your impact today!

The Charlotte Symphony has soared to new heights in the last few years.  It's because of our donors that the orchestra has reached a new level of artistic excellence and has operated within a balanced budget for the last two years.

And there's never been a better time to be a Symphony donor in light of this exciting news:  Four generous friends of the Symphony have come forward with a $100,000 challenge:
For every dollar contributed between now and May 16, they will match gifts received dollar-for-dollar!

The Charlotte Symphony board, musicians and staff would like to thank our current and future donors for their commitment to the Charlotte Symphony. 
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Posted in Support. Tagged as Fundraiser, Support the Symphony.

Three Days Left in the Spring Challenge

Only three days remain to have your donation to the Symphony doubled in the Spring Challenge. If you give by Friday, May 9, Wells Fargo will match your contribution dollar-for-dollar. That helps your gift go further in supporting the Symphony programs you love.

Click here, or call 704.714.5108 to make your donation today. 

As of this morning we are at 83% of our goal. Your gift will help us receive 100% of the match from Wells Fargo!
Winterfield students perform for the community

We sat down with our Executive Director, Robert Stickler, to discuss the challenge and why your support now is more meaningful than ever. 

The 2013-14 season closes in this week. What were your highlights?
I thought the orchestra did an extraordinary job with [Holst's] The Planets in our opening concert. The brass was particularly strong. The Verdi Requiem last week was a strong collaboration between the Oratorio Singers, CSO, and soloists all brought together masterfully by Maestro Christopher Warren-Green. We at the CSO are particularly proud that the number of subscribers this season was higher than last year, indicating that we are bringing the community the music they want to hear.

Looking ahead to next season, the CSO is celebrating the anniversaries of Strauss and Sibelius, alongside works by Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. What are you most looking forward to hearing performed?
I love Sibelius in particular so that is what I am most excited about. The most interesting thing we are doing is bringing in Wu Man to play the pipa, a traditional Chinese instrument, in Jiping's Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra. That will be a concert with Mozart and Schubert, an example of where we try to mix the familiar with the less well known works to interest a wide audience.

What do you think the Symphony contributes to Charlotte?
The CSO is the major purveyor of classic music, but we are also an important element in the cultural fabric of the community. We partner with other arts organizations to present innovative programs. Our musicians spend hundreds of hours in the schools working with students.

We provide two youth orchestras for those young people particularly interested in developing their musical skills.
Our musicians provide private lessons, play in ensembles at events all over the region, and regularly play at hospitals and other facilities where people cannot come to concerts. I cannot imagine Charlotte without the CSO.

How would you describe our audience to an outsider?
We have a diverse audience through all of our programs. We cater to the classical music enthusiast through the Wells Fargo Private Bank Classics series. We entertain with the Pops. We introduce new audiences to classical music through our innovative KnightSounds series. And we introduce youngsters to the orchestra through our Lollipops series for families. So we have senior citizens all the way to young families. KnightSounds, by the way, makes a great date night with all of the activities around the concert.

Wells Fargo and the CSO issued this Spring Challenge because we want audiences to know that "a donation of any size can make a huge difference". What makes a $10 contribution as impactful as a $1,000 contribution?
We want to have as many members of the CSO family as possible. It makes a difference when we talk to organizations that are considering financial support. Even a $10 contributions is an expression of support, so we do appreciate that. And $10 contributions sometimes grow larger over the years if the donor continues to enjoy what we do.

Don't forget! We only have until midnight Friday, May 9 to meet the Spring Challenge from Wells Fargo. Click here, or call us at 704.714.5108 to give today!

Posted in Support. Tagged as Fundraiser, Support the Symphony.

Kicking off the Wells Fargo Spring Challenge

This spring, Wells Fargo has issued a challenge, "If your audience contributes $25,000 in new gifts by Friday, May 9, we will match them, dollar-for-dollar." We sat down with Jay Everette, Community Affairs Manager at Wells Fargo, to discuss the challenge and why it is an impactful way for Wells Fargo to show its support of the Symphony.

Why do you feel offering a challenge gift is an effective method to raise audience engagement?
Jay Everette: When our Wells Fargo Foundation issues a challenge grant we know from past experience that donors appreciate the fact that their contributions are matched and in effect doubled!

Wells Fargo is a leading supporter of the arts and culture in Charlotte. Why is this a priority for the company?
Our Foundation focuses on providing exceptional arts and culture experiences for our community. We know that the arts are an important part of our educational outreach as well.

What would you say to a Symphony audience member who feels their gift would not make a difference?
A donation of any size can make a huge difference in the operation and outreach of a nonprofit. For example, even a small contribution can purchase sheet music for a symphony musician. Nonprofit groups need contributions both large and small. Small gifts are a great opportunity to introduce children to the concept of philanthropy as well, so these types of challenge grants present a great way for families to support the Symphony.

What was your most memorable Symphony experience this season?
Having the honor of being on stage to announce Wells Fargo's corporate underwriting support for the Itzak Perlman performance!

Posted in Support. Tagged as Fundraiser, Support the Symphony.


Many people think of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra as a Saturday night at the Belk Theater attended by upscale patrons in fine clothes.

I think of Max Rubio, a third-grade student at Winterfield Elementary School southeast of uptown. Max, 8, plays violin in the Winterfield Youth Orchestra, a program run with the Charlotte Symphony to allow children in a high-poverty school to experience classical music.

"What I like most of being part of orchestra is when we play concerts our parents come and they see us do something really nice," he says. "My parents take a video of the concerts and they show it to my good friend Nachito. I like playing the violin because it sounds sweet. Mr. Carlos [Tarzona, a CSO violinist] always helps me with the notes when it is hard and when I practice, the notes get better and better and I like that."

Winterfield is just one of the ways the CSO musicians give of themselves to Charlotte. CSO players challenge budding musicians at Northwest School of the Arts, interweave music and history in a Music of the Holocaust performance and introduce elementary students to symphonic music through sold-out education concerts. Altogether, the CSO reached more than 22,000 area students and teachers last year.

Whether in the Charlotte Mecklenburg schools or playing at occasions around the city, CSO musicians contribute to the cultural fabric of Charlotte in a unique way.

So imagine Charlotte without a symphony. I can't but I have friends who say if the orchestra can't make it on ticket sales alone, it shouldn't survive. No major orchestra can.

Major orchestras generate less than half of their revenue from tickets. The other half comes from a combination of private contributions, public money and endowment earnings. For the CSO, the split is roughly one-third from tickets and two-thirds from contributions.

Unfortunately, the orchestra financial model is imploding. Orchestras all over the country, even in the major markets, are suffering from severe financial strains. The venerable Philadelphia Orchestra a few years ago declared bankruptcy in order to reorganize its finances. The Minnesota Orchestra has been locked out for almost a year as management and musicians feud over demands for extensive retrenchment. There was a lockout in Atlanta. Orchestras in San Jose, Honolulu and New Mexico have gone out of business.

Public money is drying up. Private philanthropy has not been able to plug the gap. Of the 21 orchestras in Charlotte's peer group, 14 suffered operating losses in 2012. The CSO that year had a deficit of about $423,000.

Many communities, and Charlotte is no exception, are at a crossroads. Do they value a symphony orchestra as an important part of the community? If so, are they willing to pay for it? And in this case, "they" is both the private and public sectors. The public-private task force on how to fund the arts in Charlotte is an important step. But this community is below average in both the amount of private philanthropy and public money to support the arts.

In answering the question of financing our cultural future, I hope people think of Max Rubio.

Robert Stickler is president and executive director of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Read more here. Read more

Posted in Support. Tagged as Fundraiser, Support the Symphony.

Dreams for a New Age of Arts in Charlotte

"We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams"

So begins Arthur O'Shaughnessy's ode to the creative class. Like many others my age, I first head this refrain uttered by Gene Wilder in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." (The source of a number of many of my early cultural references...) It wasn't until years later that I took the time to read the whole poem. (It's good.) What reminded me of this poem recently was an article about an American symphony orchestra (not ours) that was in the process of laying the groundwork for some hoped-for long term financial stability (like ours...and so many others). In the article were quotes from civic leaders, corporate recruiters, politicians, and music professionals all hailing the importance of a successful symphony orchestra to their city.

Most comments focused on a successful orchestra being a source of civic pride, an important corporate recruiting tool, or a local cultural benefit. These benefits notwithstanding, many orchestras in America are struggling. Blame the economic downturn, changing demographics, or the proliferation of entertainment options, but orchestras are fighting an ongoing battle to justify their existence. A few have folded. It got me to thinking.

What if a symphony orchestra could actually be an educational, economic, and cultural catalyst to a city and its surroundings? What if that happened here?

Radical thinking, I know. But just for the fun of it, let's continue down this less traveled road. Charlotte perpetually strives to become a world class city. I know that because I read it in the paper every other day. Just what that means, of course, depends on your perspective. To some, it means the crime is low, the schools are good, and the train runs on time. To others, it means a vibrant cultural and sporting life. To others, something completely different. People inside and outside of Charlotte often poke fun at our civic status-seeking. And sure, as a city and as a region we aren't yet comfortable in our own skin. We try too hard to impress. But isn't this drive to become a better version of ourselves exactly the stuff that made Charlotte what it is today? We do not accept that this is all we can be. We desire. We hope. We aspire.

Great strides have been made in Charlotte to lay the financial groundwork for a viable symphony orchestra for years to come. There is much work to be done, of course, but thanks to the generosity and support of so many, the orchestra is in better shape than it has been for some time. What if we took things further, though? What if we adopted a vision to make Charlotte a recognized home for the arts and a leading cultural and musical center in the U.S.? Sure, there are many reasons why it wouldn't, couldn't, or shouldn't happen. But what if it did? What if we put together a plan to integrate the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra into the very fabric of life in Charlotte?

For years, music education has been considered a luxury, and is often one of the first programs to get cut when the budget tightens. But music education shouldn't be a luxury in our school systems; it should be an integral and irreplaceable part of the curriculum. A few years ago, Jonathan Fanton, then president of the MacArthur Foundation, put it this way: "The arts deepen our understanding of the human spirit, extend our capacity to comprehend the lives of others, allow us to imagine a more just and humane world. Through their diversity of feeling, their variety of form, their multiplicity of inspiration, the arts make our culture richer and more reflective."

Beyond that, there is strong evidence that music education that includes instrumental music performance from kindergarten through high school delivers measurable improvements in the math and science performance of students (another blog for another day...) The Charlotte region is moving to diversify its economic base and attempting to become a hub for energy and technology and other areas of economic development. It will increasingly need an employment base equipped with not only specific trade skills, but also with people who have broad ranging abilities in science and math. Music education can help. As a bonus, we develop a population of residents who are interested in and understand the value of the arts.

About three years ago, the nonprofit organization, Americans for the Arts, conducted an economic impact study and concluded that nationally, America's nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year. Closer to home, some folks launched an arts festival back in 1977 in Charleston as a companion to a similar festival in Italy. Today, Spoleto Festival USA is recognized as one of the world's leading festivals. Organizers estimate that the annual economic impact is over $55 million ($44 million from visitors) for the 17-day event. The festival also supports the equivalent of just under 1,000 jobs and over $20 million in local household income. I'm not suggesting that Charlotte attempt its own "Spoleto" necessarily. And yes, a 2-week music festival with out-of-town guest artists is a different animal from a resident orchestra. But rather than looking at the orchestra (and the arts in general) as a debit in the civic checkbook, we should recognize, develop, and promote the arts as an economic asset. I love sports, but they are not the only pursuits that deliver economic impact to a region.

"World class" or not, Charlotte is fast becoming an international city. We can fear that or embrace it. In making the transition from a "small town with a lot of people" to a true city-region, one of the benefits of attracting a broader scope of individuals is the cultural heritage they bring. Charlotte has always done a good job of embracing people with different backgrounds. Not diversity for the sake of being diverse, but embracing diversity as a means of enriching the cultural and economic fabric of the city. Already, we are seeing the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra begin a new venture with its KnightSounds concert series at the Knight Theater. Designed to engage audiences and let them experience the orchestra in a whole new way, KnightSounds is not about dumbing down the musical experience, but rather about opening it up to an expanded audience. It's a good start, and I hope we will continue to do more to reach out to the community that is not part of the traditional concert-going audience.

O'Shaughnessy's poem later reads:

...For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

We all know that times are difficult. That shouldn't stop us from dreaming or doing. Spoleto USA was launched in 1977. If you have forgotten or weren't around, the 1970s was the worst decade economically since the Great Depression. High inflation (over 13 percent by 1979), double-digit interest rates (the prime rate had hit 21.5 by the end of 1980), and not one, but two oil crises all contributed to  a sluggish cynicism throughout the country and long lines at the gas station. If the Spoleto organizers had tried to "time the market" and waited until times got better to launch their festival, it may not have happened.

The Charlotte Symphony is working hard to get its financial house in order and develop a sound business plan for the future. It has a new Music Director who is talented, experienced, and passionate about his mission here. It is reaching out to new audiences. Now is the time to bring to birth a new age of music and the arts to Charlotte. Let's do it.
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Posted in Support. Tagged as Fundraiser, Support the Symphony.