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A Better Way To Think About Symphonic Garbage
Discovering ways for symphony orchestras to go green.

by Holly Mulcahy
September 3, 2007

Maybe it was the title of the article that caught my attention: "Rubbish Concert to Boost Recycling", or maybe it was the accompanying picture of a musician in a tux playing a mannequin leg as if it were a cello. Either way, the article piqued my curiosity and got my hopes up that it might feature a new way the musical world was now becoming "Eco Chic"; alas, this was not necessarily the case. Instead, this article covered how the London Philharmonic musicians were giving a concert to raise awareness for recycling. According to the article, "the performance was held to coincide with the new Channel 4 series Dumped, where 11 people try to survive living on a rubbish dump."

Garbage and orchestras are not really a new idea, I remember a widely publicized program ten years ago where Japanese school children took items out of their trash to create musical instruments as part of a social studies project on recycling. To me, it seems that now is the time for classical music – orchestras in particular – to move beyond photo shoots and playing benefit concerts to find meaningful ways to eliminate waste and be even more creative about environmental issues than just playing on garbage.

For instance, the wasteful pile of paper rotting in landfills generated by loads of glossy marketing material and program books could be a good lace to begin making a substantial change in the way this business handles paper consumption.

Marketing Brochures
Each year I receive dozens of promotional pamphlets from my own orchestra and several others I perform with not to mention dozens more from performing arts centers, ballet companies and every other group where I've purchased a ticket over the years. Although these pamphlets detail al off the exciting concerts and soloists I can count on one hand the number of patrons who keep these around for a full season. Instead, most people I know visit a group's website a week or so before they want to see a program. As a result, as soon as I have glanced over the information in all of those brochures, I toss them in the recycle bin. Ideally, every one of these seasonal brochures sent out to tens of thousands of households in my area ends up in recycling bins but chances are they end up in general trash and then the landfill.

I often wonder if there is a more creative way of getting an orchestra's information to the public besides the tired method of printed brochures. I wonder this as I look on my desk to see my pocket calendar (printed on recycled paper with soy ink) that I received at my chiropractic. In this calendar, the upper half features healthy tips, mini articles on TMJ, and a glossary of vitamin terms. If a symphony insists on sending out printed promotional material, why couldn't it be useful, informative, and environmentally friendly like the pocket calendar from my chiropractor?

Concert Programs
I know it all comes down to money for the non-profit world, but one has to wonder if the ever-thickening concert program is all that necessary. Just like the season brochures, the concert programs, and even the very concept of programs, could be overhauled.

Everyone knows that the vast majority of pages inside concert programs are taken up by the advertisements, most of which have little impact on patrons. However, even though the programs generate a great deal of wasted paper those advertisements also provide one of the few opportunities orchestras can conduct a profitable component of business. So getting rid of program books or cutting back on the amount of paper isn't always a reasonable option if it means an orchestra has to cut off their fiscal nose in spite of their face.

Besides opting for programs which utilize soy ink and recycled, biodegradable paper would it be worth it to have sponsors show their support in other ways besides paper?

I have performed with a few ensembles that utilize advertisements projected to a wall or the back of the stage before the concert starts and during intermission. This seems like a fine solution but it is also very limited as potential advertisers won't get as much potential exposure and the organization earns much less advertisement revenue. But there has to be other creative ways to shrink those heavy, cumbersome program books (don't even get me started on how distracting it is as a musician to hear on of those behemoths crash onto the floor during the quietest moment during the concert).

What would happen if you eliminated the program completely? Is there a way to convey the necessary information in programs while simultaneously retaining advertisement revenue?

How about selling advertisement space on the organization's website and promotional emails? Or how about increasing the amount of advertising in lobbies with attractive displays enclosed in glass which are incorporated seamlessly with the décor?

Follow the Leader
When I see all of the creative ways other businesses are embracing the Eco Chic movement, I am rather surprised that the orchestra world has been slow to respond. Look at some of the creative methods other businesses have come up with:
  • Most hotels now encourage guests to conserve water by using sheets and towels for more than one evening.
  • Grocery stores are encouraging shoppers to cut down on the usage of plastic bags by offering discounts for utilizing reusable bags. One clever company is cashing in on this by selling a canvas bag with the phrase "not a plastic bag" printed across both sides. Seems like an effective strategy to me (I know I want one).
  • Greeting cards companies have been pushing their soy ink and recycled paper products for some time. So much for flipping the card over to see if it's a Hallmark, instead, people want to know if it's an environmentally friendly card.

Most of my fellow musicians are active recyclers, buyers of environmentally friendly products, and generally aware of the issues of global warming. Additionally, many patron and orchestra manager friends I have made over the years seem to share similar views. So why is the orchestra world not exploiting those commonalities for the benefit of the environment?

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