Cheryl FippenDavid Roth  

Book Review "And the Band Stopped Playing: The Rise and Fall of the San Jose Symphony" by Thomas Wolf and Nancy Glaze

Cheryl Fippen & David Roth
April 10, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

And the Band Stopped Playing is an account of the demise of the San Jose Symphony, written by Thomas Wolf of Wolf, Keens & Company and Nancy Glaze of the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, who funded the research for the book.

When the Hartford Symphony received a complimentary copy of the book, my Board President, David Roth, purchased a copy for every HSO Board member because he believed that the book told an important and timely story about our industry, and because the Hartford Symphony, like so many orchestras, is in the process of trying to figure out how to restructure itself. I asked David to write a review of the book, given how strong his reaction to it was.

Because the topic is so vitally important, I then asked Cheryl Fippen to write a review as well. Cheryl was a cellist with the San Jose Symphony at the time it ceased operations, and is a former Vice President of ROPA.

Both reviews discuss the merits of the analysis presented, and both concur that much was amiss with the SJS management. Cheryl corrects some mis-assertions she found in the text, and both point to the possibility of a conflict of interest vis-ŗ-vis the Packard Foundation. David strongly recommends that the book be required reading for anyone involved in the symphony industry because it raises such valuable questions.

- Ann Drinan

Reviewed by Cheryl Flippen

This 2005 book contains many pertinent questions and conclusions about the history and eventual demise of the San Jose Symphony (SJS). It provides an interesting introduction, detailing the formation of the SJS and comparing it with the start of orchestras in other cities around the country. There are curious statistics, such as those describing a population with a higher than average education and a higher than average interest in classical music – that prefers to listen to music in their cars! And of course, the book chronicles the many leadership failures, both administrative and artistic, the inappropriate programs and poor concert halls, and a musicians’ union contract that was out of touch with the underlying revenues and deficits of the organization. All of these points have merit and surely led in some degree to the bankruptcy of the San Jose Symphony.

However, the book also understates or omits other factors that should be more closely examined. Appendix A lists a myriad of competing classical music organizations, yet does not name them. Five professional symphonies in Silicon Valley alone? And four chamber orchestras? And while we’re exploring numbers, the 641 individuals surveyed online about their classical consumer preferences seems a very small sample from which to draw such far-reaching conclusions.

Wolf and Glaze state that the growth of the orchestra in the 70s included an endowment. While a Foundation existed to manage and grow an endowment, it was not part of the SJS, and no sizable amount of money was ever available to fund operations. The SJS never had an endowment, such as all successful orchestras do, and thus was subject to the yearly vagaries of the fundraising climate. Lack of planning for an endowment was a major factor in the collapse of the SJS.

In the Budgets and Financial Controls chapter of the book, the authors fail to connect the decline in ticket sales between 1999 and 2001 with the dot.com bust. While the organization should obviously have made budget revisions based on the reality of the market place, it should be noted that the entire Valley was reeling from a precipitous drop in the economy. And in the next paragraph about sold services, nothing is mentioned about the fact that the SJS initiated the break with the Ballet so that those services could be used for community outreach – something that funders were calling for at the time. (These same funders then rejected the community efforts of the SJS.) Without the income from sold services, and with no foundation support to fill the gap, the SJS fell into even more perilous financial straits.

Much is made about the mismatch between our highly trained and touted conductor and the community he failed to serve. An assumption is made that if he had interacted better with the community, both in programming and outreach, that all would have been well. Nothing is said of the artistic mismatch with the orchestra itself, and although this is a delicate matter, the artistic leadership was lacking both onstage and off. If a lesson is to be learned, it is that a vibrant relationship between the conductor and a community grows from the creativity and integrity of performances.

Regarding authors Wolf and Glaze: mention must be made of the clear conflict of interest that underlies this book. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation, who funded the research for this book, had been a significant funder of the San Jose Symphony for many years, but at some point in the 1990s they stopped being supportive. Not only did this deprive the SJS of important resources, but it poisoned the entire fundraising climate for the orchestra. Surely the Foundation and Nancy Glaze, its Director of Arts, knew exactly what the consequences would be, and this book conveniently justifies their inaction. By sponsoring Mr. Wolf to write this book, a gentleman who specializes in writing about failed symphonic orchestras, one has to ask if his conclusions are truly objective, or skewed to substantiate the clear bias of his co-author and patron.

Cheryl Fippen was a cellist with the San Jose Symphony and is now a member of the Silicon Valley Symphony. She is a past Vice President of ROPA.And The Band Stopped Playing: The Rise and Fall of the San Jose Symphony is copyright 2005 by Wolf, Keens & Company (info@wolfkeens.com).

ISBN # 0-9762018-0-6; Library of Congress Control Number: 2005904665

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