We at Festival Mozaic have recently benefited from the talents of George Drastal on our Board of Directors. George is a stalwart arts supporter who came by his love of classical music in a truly inspiring way. Here, he describes his journey and the importance of “repaying our debts.”
I have just joined the Board of Directors of Festival Mozaic, but I’ve volunteered to serve on symphony orchestra boards since 1999. In case you wondered what Board members do, we donate our time to help run the organization, and we donate money as well. As a friend once said, it’s not a paid job, it’s a paying job. We also spend quite a lot of time harassing you, dear listeners, to open up your checkbooks as well.
What’s with that? That’s what I’m here to explain. You might know that only about 45% of the Festival’s operating budget comes from the sale of tickets, and give or take a few percent, that’s typical of orchestras across the country. Big or small, they all rely on you for most of the rest. Why do they all depend so heavily on donations instead of earned income?
Supply and demand is a part of the answer. Bruce Springsteen is coming to the LA Sports Arena this April, and I notice that seats in the nosebleed section begin at $91 but you can get a really nice view of the boss from Loge Level 27. Only that’s gonna cost you $950. For one seat. When you think about how many seats there are in the LA Sports Arena, it’s obvious why tickets will cover the cost of putting on the show plus provide a nice paycheck for the star. Now I don’t have a beef with Mr. Springsteen. I lived in NJ long enough to feel like we’re homeboys … along with a few million others.
If you have tuned around the radio dial, you know that classical music isn’t the most popular genre. Advertisers don’t hitch themselves to classical radio when they want to sell more beer or Red Bull. So there’s another source of earned income that isn’t viable for us. Selling recordings? If a symphony orchestra sells 10,000 CDs that’s considered a miracle, and at that level we can barely cover the costs of production.
Believe me, we’re worrying about this, and a lot of smart people are thinking about finding new revenue sources. Until we strike upon the “killer app” for live classical music, we have to rely on donors to make up the balance. Come to think of it, it’s been this way ever since Mozart went begging to European royalty, only there aren’t too many royal families left any more.
No one becomes a classical musician because he or she expects to become wealthy. They do it because they love to do it. And if you’re like me, you love this music passionately and your life would be less colorful without it. We are a minority, so if we want this kind of music around, we had better be a vocal and active minority.
But charitable giving is a very personal matter. Often, the decision to give originates from asking ourselves, “If not me, then who?”. My personal answer has to do with paying back a loan.
I grew up in a fifth floor apartment in a neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, that didn’t produce many scientists. In fact not a lot of us made it through college, but I was a geek. Unlike my friends who went out to play stickball or paint subway cars after school, I wanted to stay home and do my homework while listening to music on the radio. When I was old enough to ride the subway alone, I loved to spend the day in Manhattan just people-watching or exploring. But if I had saved up enough from my summer job to afford a ticket, my most special days were spent hearing the world’s best orchestras live at Avery Fisher Hall and Carnegie Hall.
I didn’t know then that my ticket only paid 45% of the costs, nor did I care. I thought those tickets were plenty expensive. But because prices were subsidized by donors, I was able to get in the door, and the live concert experience hooked me for a lifetime. That has everything to do with my being on the Festival Board today. In fact, it probably has a great deal to do with my good fortune in life, because music has been a constant companion and nourishment for my soul. So, in my personal view, those musicians of the NY Philharmonic, and those musicians of every recording I heard on the radio, all of them, provided a lifetime of pleasure. And I didn’t pay for it then. They let me defer payment until I would be ready and able … and that time is now.
Of course, the musicians who played for me at age 16 are probably gone now. So I’m paying back the community of musicians, who by and large are still subsidized by generous donors on behalf of the next generation. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in New York or San Luis Obispo, they are all part of the community that preserves a vital art form without which no city has the right to call itself a place of learning and culture.
The musicians that Scott Yoo brings here are among the very best in the world, and I’ve heard quite a few. They could be playing anywhere, but they come here – because the best like to work with the best – and because they trust that this community will stand with them. So, when someone comes to you asking for a donation to keep Festival Mozaic going, please understand that he or she is just as uncomfortable asking as you are for being asked. We simply have to do it.
Thank you for your generosity.