The Symphony and the City

by Niel DePonte

The work of Oregon Symphony musicians goes far beyond the performances you see on stage. The members of the orchestra also have a huge impact on the quality of life in our community — on its economic well-being and its capacity to produce fully educated, creative individuals. The arts community, and our orchestra, is a key component in the region's educational, cultural, and economic future.

What qualities will attract businesses to come to the metropolitan Portland region? Safe streets and a strong educational system, of course. But equally important is a vital downtown core area with plenty of opportunity for both “classical” and popular forms of entertainment. The arts provide that as well.

Why is a vital downtown core area important to businesses already settled in Oregon? Because the arts mean business, and at the center of the arts scene in Portland is the Oregon Symphony and its musicians, who play many roles in our community.

Who will train our children in the creative and conceptual skills necessary to succeed in a changing world? The business community’s ability to attract knowledgeable workers — its intellectual and creative capital — will make or break business. Artist and arts educators can provide the training in creativity that will enable our children to become a productive work force.

Oregon Symphony players are arts educators. We provide private lessons to aspiring musicians, but we also teach the value of truly mastering any discipline to all sorts of students in the public schools, preparing them for success in adulthood. Whether or not they make music their chosen profession, the goal of constant improvement and the refinement of skills that accompany the learning of an arts discipline are transferable to the workplace.

The variety of cultural activities available to the metro area impacts economic development, and Oregon Symphony musicians are at the heart of the musical offerings in Portland. We participate in chamber music performances, solo recitals, in churches and with choirs. Many of us have helped to found or played in ensembles such as the West Coast Chamber Orchestra, The Third Angle new music ensemble, The Northwest Chamber Players or Chamber Music Northwest. We can be found performing in nursing homes or classrooms, at private parties or lending our support to charitable events.

Businesses in the process of relocating to another city (like Portland) place access to the arts high on their list of expectations, because the arts can help attract qualified employees to Portland, enhance a company's positive image, and help foster relationships with customers, shareholders, other businesses and government officials. As Kevin Kelly, President of U.S. Bank, put it: “Great cities have a special cultural environment — full of activity and community spirit.” We want to foster that sprit of involvement and appreciation because it makes Portland a more attractive place to live and work.

The work of the Oregon Symphony musicians has been responsible for boosting Portland’s national image and prominence. An article entitled “On the Upbeat in Oregon,” appeared in Newsweek magazine. The Chicago Sun-Times called Maestro DePriest, “One of the most important American conductors of the day.” Our recordings have received national and international acclaim. We musicians always hope to benefit our community by lighting a spark of civic pride. This, we believe, leads to safer and better maintained communities.

Nowhere is that spark more evident than in and around the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, our home. We help to keep our city active and “lit-up” at night. More than 300,000 people attend our performances each season! Only the Trailblazers draw more community participation. The economic “ripple” effect of our performances brings huge benefits to downtown businesses. The total economic impact of the arts in Oregon on “indirect audience spending” (such as dinner before a concert, parking, etc.) can be as much as $100 million.

My colleagues and I are professional musicians, so naturally we believe in the value of our orchestra. But most of all we believe deeply in the value of music in the lives of all people. While we have a powerful economic impact on our community, we are here to serve our region in any and all ways that it asks of us as musicians and as citizens. And most of all, we are here to perform, for you, art that might inspire you to relax, or to reflect, or to dream of a better community and a better world — as we do.

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