Repossessing the Violin

Recently, a middle school student in a Michigan community arrived at school. She arrived early. In fact her class, an orchestra rehearsal, started at 7 am before her regular school day. She was proud, carrying her own violin!

Years ago, her school district started a pilot program for middle school orchestra – early in the morning and rehearsing at the high-school. It started with a few kids excited to learn a string instrument or to play music with their friends. The kids loved the music, the teachers were committed to the orchestra, and therefore, the kids kept coming and even brought their friends.

Promises that the program would move to a regular class-time were not fulfilled. There just was not enough money to do so – it’s Michigan. Despite that, the orchestra kept growing in size and quality despite the ungodly rehearsal time for any normal kid.

That morning, when the rehearsal was over, the girl walked out of the class-room, chatting with her friends. But she was suddenly stopped by a representative of a local music store who was waiting, poised to pull the violin out of the girl’s hands. Only because of the intervention of the teachers did this ugly scene get resolved and the girl still plays her violin.

This story bothers me on many levels.

What has this world come to? Understandably, the company thinks that it is easier to pry the violin from the hand of a girl rather than her parents. But that does not make it right. What was he thinking?

Needless to say, I do feel sympathy for the music store owner who needs to collect money from people who suddenly are in economic turmoil. Fathers and mothers are losing their jobs in the thousands and decisions that made sense one year ago, such as fulfilling your girl’s dream of playing her violin, are being reconsidered. There is just not enough money to do it all. Parents are faced with questions nobody should have to answer, about priorities, and about tough choices.

But, most importantly, this story focuses our attention on one of the most disturbing consequences of our economic turn-down: the rapid death of the arts and music in our communities. I read that the Baltimore Opera recently entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; orchestras and clubs around the country are struggling to survive and even the Metropolitan Opera in New York City slashed their creative programs. The most recent children’s concert of the Ann Arbor symphony was a little bit over half full – the lowest I have ever seen it.

The famous philosopher and writer Goethe said, and I am paraphrasing, that every good day of his life has some art in it! We have to live good days: we have to enjoy that movie, enjoy that concert, or enjoy that museum. The Great Depression gave birth to some of the most amazing American music. People went to listen, or to dance in order to remember what’s important about their lives. That’s what art can do!

So, why do we talk about this in a blog about entrepreneurship? Well, because art stands for creativity, and its human expression. Art is a reflection of our humanity, and the relations we have with each other and with our environment.

Today, unlike anything since the Great Depression, we need that creative spirit, the innovative energy that breaks new ground, and adds true value. I believe that we all need the arts and music, especially our kids!

The University of Michigan is in the process of opening an unprecedented set of museums and exhibits. Go see them and you will learn! Go to a concert, or even better—set one up! It’s not a matter of money; it’s a matter of will and a cool idea well implemented and executed. See, it’s just like entrepreneurship!

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