State of the Symphony 2014
We've had an amazing year! Learn about our work on and off the stage in 2013-14. (Download pdf)
We strive to ensure that all of our work meets this singular mission:
Redefining the symphonic experience through live performances and community engagement
wcfsymphony continues to attract attention within the community, from around the state and nationally for our unique artistic profile. In 2014 Artistic Director and CEO Jason Weinberger talked to the Courier about our approach to programming and presentation:
Traditional concerts have been somewhat passive affairs for the audience. We want to flip that experience into something more engaging, surprising, varied. Experimentation and discovery are a huge part of our programming!
The focus on discovery that Jason described has helped shape an ever-more varied collection of concerts, offering engaging experiences while also positioning us to reach out to a more diverse population of listeners in the Cedar Valley.
Highlights of the past year included our first-ever concerts at the RiverLoop Amphitheater and Brown Derby Ballroom in downtown Waterloo. These concerts mixed imaginative programming with special seating arrangements to take advantage of the venues’ strengths and to offer patrons heightened experiences of ensemble music.
We also continue a commitment to music of our time and place that is unequalled among our peer orchestras around the country. On our last 8 public programs we have presented no less than 8 works by living American composers, capped by this fall’s Sounds American Festival featuring a world premiere by Daniel Gilliam and a recent symphony by Adam Schoenberg. Our audience has shown a growing appetite for these enterprising musical experiences, as one reviewer noted at our April 2014 world premiere by Iowa composer Brooke Joyce:
It’s no exaggeration to say that the crowd went wild.
Our most ambitious project of the past twelve months was a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht co-presented with the GBPAC Artist Series and involving several other campus and community organizations. The presentation had a galvanizing effect on our community; here are just a few of the many remarkable responses:
100% the most meaningful and beautiful symphony concert I have ever been to. \ If ever a concert demonstrated the power of music, that was it. \ The music was great, but the message was extraordinary. \ Brought different groups of people together, both as performers and audience, who might not normally interact. \ It gave insight, instilled empathy and brought home the face of human suffering & endurance to our community.
Finance, Fundraising & Sales
Financial performance continued its steady course of improvement in 2013-14, yielding our first operational surplus in six seasons (a major strategic goal achieved one year ahead of schedule):
2011-12: -63,606.86 *staff/board reorganized during the second half of this season
Annual giving saw a 20% increase on the heels of the same percentage improvement in the prior year. Grants, primarily in the areas of education and programming, increased 25% over the prior year to their highest totals in our history. We also received a major grant from Black Hawk County Gaming Association to support the implementation of a major new patron and donor database, Raiser’s Edge from Blackbaud.
While orchestras around the country have been seeking pay reductions from musicians - sometimes in multiple installments over consecutive contracts - wcfsymphony instituted a 4% pay raise for all musicians in 2014.
Our biggest challenges remain ticket sales and corporate sponsorship, though we are taking highly proactive approaches to grappling with industry-wide - some would even say society-wide - trends in these areas. For the first time in our history our 2014 budget projects the same amount in single sales as in subscriptions, an approach which dovetails with the varied nature of the concerts we are offering. We also added new sponsorship options and categories with the aim of increasing businesses’ engagement in our core activities: music making and community engagement.
Education and engagement with young people in the Cedar Valley continued to be one of our strongest areas of activity, with increased participation from funders and audiences in all of our core programs (Lollipop concerts, Instrument Petting Zoo, Ensembles in the Schools, Youth Concerts).
EIS maintained its revitalized presence in area schools after returning from a 3-year hiatus, while free Lollipop concerts - now in their 33rd season - and Instrument Petting Zoo appearances served as the gateway into a world of music for hundreds of families. The Courier recently visited a Lollipop/IPZ event and came away with this:
If you’d walked into the Waterloo Center for the Arts at around 11 am on Saturday you’d have been greeted at the door by a cacaphony of bells, violins, clarinets, flutes and brass instruments. The tiny players tore about gleefully from one table to the next at the Instrument Petting Zoo, trying their hands at trumpets and trombones after having heard them in action moments earlier at the season’s first Lollipop Concert … Education and Operations Director Kathleen Sihler said some kids come away from the event wanting to learn how to play an instrument. “That's been a wonderful component of it all, especially since the arts and music are less present in public schools.”
The IPZ in particular has seen a notable rise in demand and has become one of our most important public-facing programs. We have increased capacity to meet this demand through a combination of new staffing, volunteer coordination and service partnerships with area university students.
Ahead of our 2014 Youth Concerts thousands of students across northeast Iowa explored music through an educator-designed curriculum connecting schools’ core subject of reading with a musical program based on narrative. School visits by Jason as well as other ensembles (including all of the EIS groups) dovetailed with that theme, enabling educators to make the greatest possible use of the precious time they set aside to work with us.
The 2014 Youth Concerts themselves were full to capacity with over 4000 students in attendance, marking another milestone for us in our engagement with schools and students. 9 of them even had a chance to conduct the orchestra at the concert and take selfies onstage with Jason!
Our broad challenge continues to be delivering as many programs as funding trends will make possible, since we do not have unlimited staff resources nor full-time access to our musicians. Ongoing solutions include a focus on desired impacts of education programming and cross-program consistency of quality and content.
Governance & Volunteers
Friends of wcfsymphony undertook a major transition to a membership model in support of its revised mission:
Friends of wcfsymphony is a member organization that connects our orchestra with our community through advocacy, volunteerism, fundraising events and educational program support.
Membership was disconnected from annual giving and instead offered as a standalone opportunity. A membership guide, special benefits, and clearer communication about volunteer opportunities were provided to members. In 2014 Friends exceeded its first-year goal of 150 members and currently has a membership of over 250.
In early 2014 the wcfsymphony board completed a feasibility study which provided an assessment of our strengths and weaknesses as perceived by community stakeholders. In response to findings in that study, the board is working to bolster its membership and refine committee structures to provide greater transparency and clarity in fundraising and finance.