The Nashville Symphony — like many cultural institutions — is trying to figure out how to stay afloat while music lovers are stuck at home.
With concerts postponed indefinitely, the symphony’s staff and musicians are taking a 25% pay cut. But there could more tough decisions ahead.
Ticket sales make up about two thirds of the symphony’s revenue. And it costs a lot to pay its employees: $1.2 million a month.
During a virtual town hall Wednesday, CEO and President Alan Valentine said the board’s priority is to ensure that the institution survives.
“It’s a challenging situation because, if we were to basically use all of our cash, keeping everybody employed throughout this crisis, without additional sources of revenue or help, obviously, we would not then have the cash to restart when this is over or to get back up and running,” he said.
No employees have been laid off or furloughed at this point, and Valentine said the board doesn’t want anyone to lose their health benefits.
The symphony is asking people who have bought tickets to turn them into a donation, instead of asking for refunds. They say that would bring in more than $1 million.
They’re also applying for a federal loan through the coronavirus relief package.
For now, Valentine said the board is “remaining calm and optimistic.”
“We’re trying to control what we can control,” he said. “Our board and management team, to their great credit, are working diligently to do our very best, in the short term, by our employees, and to assure that there is a Nashville Symphony on the other side of this for our community.”
While the Schermerhorn Symphony Center’s seats sit empty, its musicians are also thinking up ways to keep music aficionados engaged. Ensemble members have been recording videos of themselves playing and are hoping to put on a virtual performance at some point, with everyone playing from their respective homes.
Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero said during the town hall that he’s open to any ideas — from streaming his popular pre-concert lectures to an online conducting challenge. He’s even considering experimenting with video-editing app TikTok.
“There has been a great learning curve of how we can continue reaching out through so many different mediums of social media,” Guerrero said.
The maestro said he hopes these unusual circumstances will provide an opportunity for the symphony to make classical music more accessible and “remove some of the mysteries behind it.”
“I am more than happy to jump into some of these mediums that, to me, seem like a foreign language, to be honest with you,” Guerrero said. “But with the help of our wonderful staff and my two teenage daughters, I know I will become very fluent with this hopefully quickly enough.”
And when this is all over, the maestro is looking forward to a big celebratory concert.
“I can only imagine, you know, the music that will be needed once we get over this and we get a green light to all come out and be together again,” Guerrero said. “One thing we have learned over the course of even the most terrible events: humanity continues. Music continues. The world will go on.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.