One secret to happiness
By Frank Denton, The Florida Times-Union
September 2, 2016
It turns out that music does have charms to soothe a savage breast and even, as playwright William Congreve continued in 1697, “to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
Two Australian researchers surveyed a large sample of their countrymen and found that people who had engaged in music, including just attending concerts, had higher feelings of “subjective wellbeing” — that is, personal happiness — than other people who stayed home and watched TV or something.
That supported earlier research finding that music can reduce stress and “evoke positive feelings such as joy, relaxation and empowerment” and that people who enjoy music with other people have even stronger positive experiences.
You don’t have to dig out your tap shoes or learn to play the flugelhorn. Among many other venues for all kinds of music in our town, the Jacksonville Symphony stands ready to, as its slogan says, “stir your soul” with the breathtaking music that can be created by 68 talented musicians in concert.
While two of our major arts institutions, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and the Museum of Contemporary Art, are seeking new footing as they begin searches for directors, the orchestra finally has emerged from years of crisis, uncertainty and its own leadership issues to achieve stability and the freedom to focus on quality and expanded programming. Since I’ve discussed the longstanding problems here, I owe you an update on the progress.
Last year was the first full season for the orchestra’s dynamic young leaders: Courtney Lewis, the music director and conductor, and Robert Massey, the president and CEO.
Massey has upended the organization and brought in 18 new members of the administrative staff of 50, some from other orchestras like the New York Pops and the North Carolina Symphony, to rebuild key functions like marketing, community engagement and fundraising.
With Lewis, they started new programs to reach new audiences, such as the Symphony in 60 (minutes, that is), Symphonic Night at the Movies and Sunday matinees for both its masterworks and pops series.
As a result, the orchestra performed for 201,000 people last season, compared to the previous record of 180,000 the previous season, and ticket sales were up 9 percent. There were free community concerts, including one in the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, and free performances for more than 80,000 students.
But the most important landmark is that the Symphony will end its fiscal year happily in the black, with revenue of $9.9 million and expenses of about $9.3 million.
“We are moving the ship in the right direction,” Massey said. “We’re very happy with this past year. We’re in a really, really good place.
“The ultimate goal over the five-year strategic plan is to not only look at sustainability but look at permanent sustainability. Orchestras have good years and not-so-good years. We need to ensure that the success and momentum we’ve built this year we can sustain.
“Jacksonville is an incredible city, but you can’t be a great city without a great symphony.”
Not that that might matter to you personally. You’re looking for a good time.
Which you should be able to find at Jacoby Symphony Hall in a variety of ways this year, as you can see at the orchestra’s revamped website, jaxsymphony.org. Masterworks have increased from 10 concerts to 12, and pops from eight to 12, plus coffee concerts, Symphony in 60, Symphonic Night at the Movies, holiday concerts — and the return of opera, with Hansel and Gretel.
Lewis has hired six new musicians, and this year’s superstar soloist is 34-year-old Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who The New York Times once said may be “the hottest artist on the classical planet … the darling of fans worldwide.”
The orchestra is pushing for bigger and more diverse audiences by offering a variety of ways to get tickets. Season-ticket buyers can pretty much create their own seasons from almost all the orchestra’s offerings. Students and children can get much lower prices, including free for a child accompanying a ticket buyer for most concerts. So you don’t have many excuses for missing the music.
We’ll help. Our estimable Charlie Patton will provide a preview of the Symphony season in Life Sunday, Sept. 25, before the opening — Rachmaninoff! Stravinsky! — Sept. 30.
Maestro Lewis will resume his Life column starting Sept. 18, then continuing the last Sunday of each month, and we’ll again offer masterworks reviews by Will Kesling, the veteran conductor and professor of conducting and director of choral activities at the University of Florida School of Music.
So experience our re-energized Jacksonville Symphony this season. It may soothe your savage breast and maybe even stir your soul.
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