I Had No Idea Virginia Symphony Had Such A Large Line Of Credit

“During a concert of the Virginia Symphony at the 400th anniversary celebration of the founding of Jamestown, President Bush briefly took over conducting the orchestra, which explains why the orchestra is now $4 trillion in debt”…

At least that’s what Saturday Night Live reported during the 5/19/2007 Weekend Update segment (a reoccurring sketch which parodies current events via a traditional evening news program format). The bit appears at 1:03 seconds into the video (click to watch).

Did the comedy writers at Saturday Night Live know that, as a whole, the orchestra business is weathering one of the roughest bouts of deficits in decades? Probably not; instead, they were likely taking a shot at one of their regular targets and found the President’s brief appearance with the Virginia Symphony a good vehicle for the joke.

Nevertheless, the bit is funnier than anyone on the cast or writing staff probably assumes and I nearly fell off my couch laughing. As such, if you find yourself unable to laugh at the bit (or at least smile), then that’s a good sign that you need to poke your head up out of the day-to-day grind of the business and take a breather.

Postscript: Here’s a fascinating Saturday Night Live/orchestra business connection – NBC’s Studio 8H, where Saturday Night Live/ has been broadcast since 1974, was first built for the NBC Symphony Orchestra…

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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6 thoughts on “I Had No Idea Virginia Symphony Had Such A Large Line Of Credit”

  1. Technically, studio 8-H was built in 1930 along with the rest of the RCA building. The studio was then refitted to accomodate the Toscanini Orchestra, which made its broadcast debut on December 25, 1937. Interestingly,the entire NBC Symphony venture and Toscanini’s participation hinged on two rather blatant lies. Toscanini was assured by Samuel Chotzinoff, NBC’S emissary, that no NBC staff musicians would lose their jobs when the NBC Symphony was formed. As top musicians from other orchestras joined the NBC, many of the staff orchestra did, in fact, lose their jobs. Secondly, the NBC Symphony musicians were not employed exclusively as Toscanini Orchestra members. They had to play other programs. This was not discovered by Toscanini until several years later when a Toscanini rehearsal at Carnegie Hall ran late and players began literally crawling out on their hands and knees in front of the nearsighted maestro to get back to the studio to play a radio program. This realization caused the Maestro to be absent from the NBC podium for the entire 1941-1942 NBC season.
    Chotzinoff was apparently willing to say anything to secure Toscanini’s services for NBC. Needless to say, the old man never trusted him again. I thought that might be interesting to your readers…

  2. Just a little bit of trivia about our conductor in chief or as a friend put it to me the “Messtro”. In the year I became MD in San Angelo Texas and on July 3 1998 to be exact, the then governor of Texas conducted the San Angelo Symphony in Stars and Stripes. The office there proudly displays a signed photo of the event. On a slightly related note, I remember fondly watching on TV Dudley Moore get a conducting lesson on Don Juan from Solti with Moore exclaiming, “I have never done this before”. Some years earlier though he filmed both Foul Play and Unfaithfully Yours playing a conductor in both and he looked pretty good in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto!

  3. The first skit on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live was The Dead String Quartet (as announced by Don Pardo). Four players in black tie, with Chevy Chase on cello, asleep on their chairs. Chase begins to sag, then fall from the stage. He then bounded up and with great enthusiasm, spoke the words, “Live! From New York! Its…”

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