Recently, a colleague was asking advice of the proper way of “firing” the older musicians of his regional orchestra. His complaint was that these seniors were just not up to the high standards he was trying to achieve with his orchestra. Nothing wrong with raising the bar, but at what cost?
When I first arrived 25 years ago, my Orchestra was an amateur group with members of various degrees of achievement. Now, my Orchestra consists of excellent area professionals as well a select group of fabulous music students. So how did I get rid of those old guys who were dead weights and contributed absolutely nothing to the Orchestra? A horrible statement to make and one that is so wrong.
If it wasn’t for those older musicians, there wouldn’t be an Orchestra in the first place. My Orchestra was for the community to enjoy and if anyone felt they wanted to be a member, far be it from me to say you can’t come in.
What happened over the span of two decades was a complete transformation of the Orchestra through a natural process. I’ve had so many beautiful, sweet people in my orchestra through the years. Some of them have passed on and some have switched roles and became audience members. I have never fired a community player. On the contrary, community players have religiously, before each season, come to me and quite apologetically ask me if “you still want me to play?” I respond always by saying, “See that chair? That’s yours forever. You play when you want.”
Seniors are not stupid people. They are to be revered and respected. They truly understand when it is time to leave the orchestra. No fanfare. They enjoyed the time with the group and it’s time to move to the audience. As the standards rise and the size of our audience increases along with an expectation that the concert they are about to hear will be of a certain high quality, members know when it is time for their final bow.
Recently, I learned of a former cellist who passed away. He was a friend and a great supporter of the Orchestra. Awhile ago, a violist died and last year a bass clarinetist had a fatal accident. These people were my friends. Get rid of them? How cruel! A violinist, who has been on the Orchestra longer than I and plays when she can, always gives me a hug and thanks me for bringing such quality music to the community. I am humbled by that simple act.
These seniors are gold; they will be your biggest supporters. They are all a buzz at Sunday Church about Saturday’s concert. You can’t buy PR like that.
There is so much emphasis on youth these days; we forget that those sitting in the back have so much to offer. Do not ignore them. You can’t buy such experience and dedication. You might learn a few things from them; treat them with respect and be honored that they wish to become part of something they hold so dear. They have enriched your life.