I have been part of numerous San Francisco Bay Area choral start-ups over the last 4 years. These projects spanned the entire amateur-professional spectrum, in terms of artistry. While, in each case, the music making was deeply rewarding, the box-office returns were more often than not, disappointing, if not disastrous. No classical music start-up can survive purely on the concert-revenue-driven business model. Things are harder for us than for our pop musician compatriots.
All classical music groups eventually recognize that outside support is an absolute necessity in these endeavors. Fund-raising and grant-seeking take up a large fraction of the effort of a non-profit arts organization. Our colleagues across the Atlantic still benefit from relatively generous support from State-funded agencies. Here, in the U.S.A., we scour the sidewalks for $50 here and there from friends, $500 from various foundations, hoping and praying that some former oil baron will send us that magical 5-figure check needed to bankroll most professional projects.
If we were to succeed in raising all of the external support necessary to produce a concert, the ghost of Adam Smith would still whisper in my ear, "Why go through all the effort if no one is going to consume your product?" In less technocratic terms, why put on a performance if no one out there wants to share in the experience? An empty house is emotionally devastating and demoralizing. What are we trying to do? Are we trying to force the public to buy typewriters and horse-drawn buggies when they really want iPhones and SUV's? Are classical choral concerts going the way of the Vaudeville show?
My classical music friends and I are fighting this rising tide of disappointment. We are guided by one simple principle. If we are passionate about this art-form, then it must have the possibility of resonating with the wider public. The question is, how.