Feeling the music with Steven Larson

What Works
What Works
Feeling the music with Steven Larson

On this week’s Thinker What Works podcast:

  • How to build team harmony.
  • Adjusting to changing tastes.
  • The business of music.


Jason Todd: You’re listening to Thinker’s What Works Podcast. I’m your host Jason Todd with my co-host Alex Gary and today Steven Larson. He’s been with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra as it’s conductor for 27 years in the Rockford area. Steven, a pleasure to have you here.

Steven L.: Pleasure to be here, seems like 50.

Jason Todd: So that’s kind of the rule every year an orchestra is actually two years of life.

Steven L.: No, sometimes it seems like that but it’s just now … I think, if I wasn’t consciously aware of how many years it was, if you would have asked me, “How long have you been here?” My snap answer would have been oh maybe ten. It’s just gone by and it just seems like I’ve always been here, just kind of amazing.

Jason Todd: Well clearly you do what you love.

Steven L.: Oh definitely.

Jason Todd: So that helps the time pass.

Alex Gary: Do you remember what your first performance was?

Steven L.: Here in Rockford?

Alex Gary: Yeah.

Steven L.: It was Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and the rest of the program I don’t remember. I think it was either a violin concerto or it might have been a piano concerto, I don’t know but just [inaudible 00:01:13] Tchaikovsky, that’s-

Alex Gary: Have you done it again since in 27 years?

Steven L.: Oh yeah.

Alex Gary: Okay. The reason we were interested in having you come on is that, I think symphonies are undergoing the same evolution a lot of entertainment things are because there’s so much out there competing for time and interest. And it was about a month ago that you did a big performance of the Star Wars music. Was that even something that you guys thought about doing back in the 1990s, having to get creative with that?

Steven L.: Well we did pops concerts in the 1990s matter of fact I started pops concerts here when I came here first pops concert was in 1992 and we’ve expanded it since then. So I’ve always felt that there are two different markets, two different audiences. There are people who love pops concerts and people who love classical concerts, and they don’t necessarily intersect although some people love them both. There are people who would come to a movie concert, or a John Williams concert and probably would … They’re just not interested in going to a classics concert, so we want to be able to perform music for them. It’s all generated from the same source of sound, the symphony orchestra to the extent that some people figure out that, “Well I like the sound of John Williams. I wonder if I’d like the sound of Tchaikovsky or Brahms or something like that?” I would encourage them to say “Yeah, yeah I think you probably could,” because that’s where movie music came from. It came from the great symphony composers of the 19th century, and in my mind there just isn’t a whole lot of difference between them.

Jason Todd: In terms of picking out what you’re going to do each season, is there some metrics to it. Do you sit down and say, “Okay, this last year these performances drew this level, these performances drew this level. Let’s do more of this?”

Steven L.: No I don’t. With pops concerts we’re concerned about audiences. We want people to fill up the hall. With classical concerts, I don’t think about how many people are going to come. I do think that, “Okay if I program a concert of Xenakis and Penderecki, I know that people aren’t going to be come. That’s going to be kind of a bomb. However, I might like the music, so there is that aspect but when I program a season there are lots of different things I think about. How long has it been since we’ve done this composer? How long has it been since we’ve done this particular piece? When I first came here for instance, I discovered that in the 60 years or something that the Rockford Symphony had been in existence they had never performed any of the even numbered Beethoven symphonies, two, four, six or eight, which is just … I thought, “Wow, okay, we’re going to start right now.”
Every year I think about well what would we do last year? A piece will come to me and I’ll say, “Well when’s the last time we did that?” I’ll look and it was five years ago, maybe too soon. Then I’ll look back at the record. What was 25 years ago, time to bring it back and think about particular nationalities or styles we’ve neglected. We haven’t done any Italian music for a couple of years is time to put something Italian in the program. All of that gets balanced out with the soloists, start with the soloists and, “What are you going to play?” “Well I’m going to play the Brahms concerto,” and somebody else is going to play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. When the soloist gets picked and their repertoire gets picked then that has an effect of shaping the rest of the program too because you want to balance things out.
You want it balanced you don’t want to have too many similar styles. You don’t want to have things that are just wildly divergent in style that the people just can’t wrap their heads around. It’s a lot of different factors and every year I end up with a list of, “These are pieces I really want to do.” Most of those pieces end up in the cutting room floor when I finally have a season and maybe they get recycled next year or maybe not.

Jason Todd: Right. Can’t do everything.

Steven L.: There are pieces that I’ve wanted to do for the last ten years and I can’t seem to fit into a season, and at some point maybe I will maybe I won’t.

Jason Todd: So music plays, I think, a unique and important role just in life and certainly in people’s minds in general. What role do you think the symphony plays? What’s the unique role that the symphony plays in, in life or in music?

Steven L.: Oh that’s a tough one because it’s so broad and it’s changed over the years. Can I go back and sort of start with the way it used to be?

Jason Todd: Yeah, please.

Steven L.: Going back, I think 100 years is probably fairly safe, we’re in the early part of the 20th century. Symphony orchestras and opera companies … We kind of forget today that opera for the last 400 years has been the major art form. We don’t think of it now as being the major art form, but it really has driven all other musical art forms. Opera companies and symphony orchestras were the place where the highest musical culture existed. People looked up to the composers. They looked up to the orchestras. If you wanted to play a musical instrument chances are you would study with one of the people who played in the orchestra, and you would play the sort of repertoire of same composers that the orchestra played.
As time went on and of course society changed and economic forces came around with the advent of radio and then television and of course the recording industry. Popular music took on a much larger portion of the economy. Certainly, it’s not even talking about personal preferences, just a huge chunk of the economy with the record industry and then digital industry and everything. Although the symphony industry and opera grew during this time, not anywhere near as much as the popular music industry did.

Jason Todd: Sure.

Steven L.: One of the effects this had is, sort of pulled people away from their contact with the classical orchestras, the opera orchestras. I think people forgot how much they really had in common with that stuff. You don’t have to go back that far to the Saturday morning cartoons, which almost always had soundtracks that featured classical music. That’s because all the people who did the soundtracks were familiar with us but they also knew that this was going to communicate with people. They were kind of sonic memes that you could use to communicate. As popular music gained more and more of a foothold it also shortened people’s attention spans and simplified what they were what they were listening to.
I think that if you went back to popular music in the 1930s for instance and what people listened to they were listening to a lot more sophisticated musical compositions than what you’d generally hear today. Also, you even go back, well my childhood, I remember growing up listening to music in the 1960s and 1970s. You could listen to almost any mass market station and you’d hear everything from Frank Sinatra to whatever the current rock bands, The Beatles. They were all played, all sorts of different styles were played on these mass market stations then. Now you don’t see that anymore. Radio stations tend to be focused very tightly on one particular style because they are near they’re zeroing in on that particular audience, because ultimately the only reason that a radio station is in business is to sell advertising, that’s it.

Jason Todd: Sure.

Steven L.: They’re not there to present music. They’re there to sell advertising. They’ve fine tuned their industry so they could do that. Well, we’re not in the business to sell advertising. We’re not really in the business to make money although we’re not in business to lose money either. It may seem kind of highfalutin but we’re there because we are presenting an art and trying to present it in the highest possible fashion, the best possible fashion, and also to educate people to remind people that this is out there. It’s not just there because it’s somehow good for you. It’s there because it’s great music. Recognizing that not everybody can just sit down and listen to a Wagner opera and understand what’s going on, still the capability is there for anybody to eventually get into the nuts and bolts of that piece and understand.
I’ll tell you a quick story about … Wagner operas are very controversial, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” that came from the Wagner operas and everything. Some people, oh they just can’t stand the thought of sitting through a Wagner opera. Even George Bernard Shaw said “Wagner has great moments in tedious quarter hours.” Yes, there is some truth to that but … Okay this is about five years ago when the Met was doing their complete Ring Cycle, all four operas from the ring and broadcasting them on public television. I was sitting down for an evening of the first opera, Das Rheingold, and my son who was 15 at the time was walking through the room. I said, “Come here sit down. I want you to just listen to the first four minutes of this opera because I think it’s pretty cool.” Two and a half hours later he hadn’t moved.

Jason Todd: Really, wow.

Steven L.: He was mesmerized. You think about it, “Well what’s not to like about it,” because you’re talking about gods and goddesses and giants and dragons and things like that, this is cool stuff. The translation was there so you could see what was happening. It was photographed in a way or the cinematography was in a way that these people looked real. They didn’t look like cardboard figures or something. It was really an enjoyable experience and he just really loved it. Well, if I would have told him you’re going to sit down and watch a Wagner opera tonight, no, there would be no way. But, that’s the kind of thing that can happen somebody thinks; “Well this isn’t the kind of music, I really don’t like this sort of stuff.” You sit them down and say okay listen to this, and if it’s the right piece, they’ll get hooked.

Jason Todd: Sure. You talk about how music perhaps has become simpler and with people’s shorter attention spans, and we were talking about how you’d done some pieces from Star Wars. I think of movies and I think how movies tell a story, right, and so you’re engaged in that story over let’s say an hour and a half or two and a half hours or even longer. Symphonies are much the same way and then you’re talking about operas. It’s a story, something unfolds in front of you it’s not just a good beat for the next four and a half minutes and talking about how we’re going to go dancing with each other.

Steven L.: Right, because ultimately that two and a half minute pop song is not going to engage you for much longer than two and a half minutes, then you want to want something else. I want to be clear, I denigrate this music, I don’t say it’s less significant it just is what it is. It’s there to sell records and to get the pulses up or get them dancing or singing along and it does it well.

Jason Todd: Which is great, it seems to me maybe that there’s a population of people who don’t understand the complexity of some of the-

Steven L.: Most of the population doesn’t understand the complexity and that’s one of the things that … When somebody says they don’t like opera I always want to say, “Well what kind of opera?” Because there’s opera I don’t like too, and I’m an opera conductor. There’s so many different styles of opera that there’s probably something out there that would appeal to you. Some people like the Teutonic stuff like the Wagner and other people like the comedies, and other people like the romantic stuff like Madame Butterfly and they get into that. But there’s something out there for everybody and it just takes sometimes a gentle introduction to what you’re going to hear. It’s okay, this is probably at least at first, not going to grab your attention for every minute. You’re going to drift off for a little bit and say, “I don’t know what’s going on now,” and then all of a sudden you’ll hear something and, “Oh, yeah. I like that tune. That’s good.” That happens all the time, I mean it just happens to any of us. Music can be a very complex art form. It exists in the dimension of time.
You don’t have the chance to stop things … If you’re in an art gallery you can look at a painting and you can stare at it for a while and you can check it out from this angle and walk up close and look at it. You can’t do that when you’re listening to music, it’s gone the moment that you hear it. All you can do is try to remember, and of course a good composer is going to bring that back at some point so you do remember it and maybe a couple times. It takes usually a couple times listening to a piece to really start to absorb it. Sometimes you just don’t have the opportunity to do that.

Jason Todd: Part of your part of your craft of being conductor, I term it a craft. It’s a job, but it’s kind of a craft. I think of it as an exercise in management.

Steven L.: Oh, definitely, yes.

Jason Todd: You kind of have an end goal that you’re shooting for, and it has to sound very similar to what that piece or that symphony is supposed to sound like, you can’t go to far awry. You have to have all of these people you’re working with, some of whom have their own concepts. How do you manage that? You have to not only be great at music, but the art of conducting, and the technical parts of conducting and then all of a sudden the people person and managing all these people too.

Steven L.: The longer I’m involved in conducting, I think, the less I understand it. I used to think I knew everything about it when I was younger and knew everything. But it’s just as amazing as you could get older and realize how much there is out there that you really don’t know. It’s a lot of different things. There’s the physical aspect of conducting some things, which you can teach people like, this is how you do a four pattern and a three pattern. This is how you bring people and this is how you cut them off, but beyond that it’s all about learning the music knowing how you want the music to sound and persuading other people to play it that way.
You can persuade people by talking to them. You can persuade people by showing them with gesture. You can persuade people just by the force of your personality. There are many stories about conductors being able to do that. One story, the Berlin Philharmonic timpanist told this story about, a former timpanist, he’s dead now, but back when Wilhelm Furtwängler was the conductor. Furtwängler had notorious mind control over the orchestra. I mean they just he could read his mind and they were rehearsing one day with a guest conductor and the timpanist was back there and he had a score open and he was … You have a lot of rests when you play the Timpani, so he’s following the score along. All of a sudden he heard the sound of the orchestra change completely. He looked up and Furtwängler walked into the room in the back and the orchestra and seen him and they completely changed the way that they were playing.
That’s kind of spooky, but that’s the sort of thing that happens. If you can put two conductors, three conductors up in front of an orchestra conducting the same piece and the orchestra will sound completely different. Why? I don’t know. There’s there’s some personality thing going on there’s some telepathy and that’s really what it’s all about and beyond that it’s psychology. It’s how do you persuade people to do what you want them to do especially when they’re reluctant. You use a little humor, lots of different techniques.

Jason Todd: You’ve probably practiced a lot of those techniques through the years.

Steven L.: Yeah.

Jason Todd: DO you still find yourself trying new things?

Steven L.: I don’t think I consciously think about trying a new thing you just kind of read the situation and say, “Okay this is not going well. What else can I try here?” And you try a different tactic. If you sense that people are getting a little tense you can lighten up the atmosphere a little bit like a joke at your own expense or something and see if that changes things.

Jason Todd: I’ve been a part of many musical productions and theater productions and it’s one thing to have that practice. You have a certain feeling in practice and things do kind of come together, but then there’s always … Somebody always says something like, “Well it’s going to come together during the performance. That’s when it’s really going to hit.” What’s your opinion on that?

Steven L.: I like things to come together in the rehearsal. I’m grateful when things come together in the performance. It’s just one of these things, you’re thankful and you promise you’re going to live a better life after this, but I believe in practice. I believe in rehearsal. I also believe in inspiration really setting fire to something during the performance, but no, you can’t rely on that, “It’s all going to come together during the performance.” The structure has to be intact before you do that.

Jason Todd: You got to do it in your practice as you anticipate doing it and your performance.

Steven L.: There’s lots of little tricks about that. If you’re a singer for instance, you’re coaching a singer, you always tell a singer to plan for more breath than you think you’re going to need because if you get a little bit nervous first thing to go is the breath support. That’s true for instrumentalists too, if you have a very important solo or a difficult solo coming up you have to be thinking about that. How much on the edge are they? How can I help them to relax? How can I be sensitive to where they are so that if they are getting towards the edge I can move things along a little bit. These are things that nobody can teach you. Some people know instinctively. Some people just learn it over time and hopefully get better at it. I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years. I was just talking about this with my wife last night, I think one of the things that’s helped me the most to become a good conductor is to try to be less clear in my conducting.

Jason Todd: Okay.

Steven L.: This happened a number of years ago when I was working in Chicago, worked with the musicians who played in the Lyric Opera and they’d talk about, “Oh man this conductor we’ve got now is really great. We really love him. Just great performances.” I’d go and see the performance and I think, “You know the orchestra is kind of playing sloppy and they’re playing in tune and what’s going on here?” Then they’d hear, “Oh this guy is a real jerk. We can’t follow him. He just waves his arms around and we just can’t figure out what’s happening.” I’d go and hear the performance and they sound great. They sound just really spectacular. Then I studied with a Russian conducting teacher, Russian conductor [inaudible 00:23:19].
He said that you have to make the orchestras a little bit uncomfortable if they get too comfortable they sit back in their chairs and they don’t really have to think. They don’t have to listen. You give it all to them and you show them the beat you have to make them sit up a little bit and work on finding where the unity is and how to play together. Then you’re all you’re all invested in it. It’s not just you up there waving your arms and sweating and everybody else sitting back in their chair and waiting for the rehearsal to be over.

Jason Todd: So by you not being too clear you encourage them to engage on their own, which then encourages a better final result.

Steven L.: Just something like giving a slow down beat for a chord that’s coming that the woodwinds have to play, and brass maybe, have to play this cord all together. There are ways of giving that downbeat so that they almost have no other choice but to play together. There are ways of giving the downbeat where you just kind of just go like this and you can’t see this because it’s … But you just sort of bring your hand down and stop.

Jason Todd: And suddenly they have to listen.

Steven L.: And then all of a sudden they have to sort of tune into each other and miraculously they all play together. It’s kind of a magic trick in a way. I just love to do it.

Jason Todd: This is one of those things maybe, you said you’ve been conducting for so long, one of those things that does sort of happen by magic and you I feel like I know less now than I did or I don’t know as much as I could have. There’s all of these things, maybe the magic of the performance and the energy of a certain person walking in the room and then how do you how do you conduct just enough. Give them just enough and let people do their own thing, which is sort of the magic in the art and the craftsmanship maybe behind conducting.

Steven L.: This is a whole business of analogies. Some people talk about a great orchestra as being like a highly tuned sports car. Some people say it’s like riding a racehorse or something. If you’re riding that horse and you kick him in the ribs you’re probably going to get thrown but you ride that horse and if you understand the horse and just leaning forward a little bit is going to … That’s all you need to do with to get that horse to move. Conducting an orchestra is a lot the same. You have to feel your way around a little bit. If you’re conducting and you feel the orchestra beginning to slow down a little bit, paradoxically you don’t start beating more, you start beating less and then they’ll speed up.

Jason Todd: Interesting.

Steven L.: They are just a little funny little tricks like that that you learn after a while. I was helping to helping a friend who was conducting his first Verdi Requiem and there’s a movement where the soprano and [inaudible 00:26:36] solo sing in octaves it’s quite slow. He was conducting faster and faster and faster and they were gasping for breath. And during the break he said “I don’t know what to do, I just can’t seem to sing it in tempo. I keep on getting it faster so they don’t have to breath so much.” That’s the problem, you’re conducting it so fast that they don’t have time to breathe. It’s not a question of breath control, of how long, the doing it twice that slow.
THey’ll probably be just fine because now they enough time to breathe, and sure enough it worked.

Jason Todd: So your background, are you a musician as well?

Steven L.: Well that depends if you …

Jason Todd: Consider conducting a musician.

Steven L.: Orchestras will quite often say, “Well, you’re a conductor or a musician.”

Jason Todd: You play an instrument.

Steven L.: I do. Matter of fact, I was walking past orchestra hall carrying my cello and I’m an amateur cellist, I’m not a professional cellist. But two guys in the Chicago Symphony were talking in front of Orchestra Hall and they saw me and they said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a musician.” I started playing trumpet in grade school and high school and just got to be pretty good at it. I think what probably got me into classical music was Emerson Lake and Palmer. I first heard their pictures at an exhibition and the things that they did, the rock versions, and somebody said to me, “Well if you think that that’s good you ought to hear the original.” I heard the original and I said, “Yeah. I think I like this.” But that got me involved in classical music.
I had no background in it really. My family was not musical in the least bit. In fact my mother is one of eight children and my father is one of eight children and all that extended family, all the cousins, I’m the only one who ever played a musical instrument. I mean that’s almost absurd but that’s, in the children of the depression generation, that’s kind of how things were.

Jason Todd: Sure. If you didn’t if you weren’t going to be a conductor what were you going to be?

Steven L.: Oh I was probably going to be a physician.

Jason Todd: Really?

Steven L.: Yeah, I really started out in premed.

Jason Todd: All right.

Steven L.: If I would have known back then I had ADD, I probably would have figured out a way to get around that. ADD and premed don’t necessarily go very well.

Alex Gary: I have a question. How much turnover is there in the symphony?

Steven L.: Not a whole lot.

Alex Gary: Have you had musicians who’ve been there the entire 27 years?

Steven L.: Yeah, yeah.

Alex Gary: Really.

Steven L.: Some of them have been there 35 years, 38 years in some cases. Probably the first ten years we had a lot more turn, because we weren’t paying as much back then either. We would probably have to get about 15, 20 new people every year.

Alex Gary: So in a way an orchestra is like a team and you’re building a team.

Steven L.: Right.

Alex Gary: Had there been years where at the end of the season you said “My team wasn’t as good as I want. I need five new team members.” Is it the same kind of situation?

Steven L.: I’ve had to really get rid of very, very few people because one of the things I learned a long time ago is that musicians have a lot of pride. If you give them a challenge that they feel that they just can’t manage they’ll get out rather than fail. The first couple of years, and this wasn’t a conscious effort, I just found out by just sort of upping the ante a little bit, upping the level of the repertoire we were playing, the difficulty and therefore the amount of practice time you had to put into it. Some people just dropped out because they just couldn’t keep up with it anymore.
Then as we started paying the players more it began to be more of a desirable job and people stuck around. Now nobody is full time in the orchestra. They’re all per service players and they’ll come from all over the Chicago area and obviously some from Rockford too. We get people from Evanston, from the suburbs of Chicago. I think our most distant member our principal trombone player lives about 25 miles north of Milwaukee.

Jason Todd: Oh wow. That’s quite a trek.

Steven L.: It is quite a trek. Now if we were doing this every day you couldn’t do this obviously, but on the schedule we have, when we have four rehearsals generally before a concert he can manage that.

Alex Gary: One of the things I was reading a few years ago led me to make an incorrect assumption. I was reading about the Detroit Symphony Orchestra when Detroit was really having problems. It was a TIME magazine piece about how it is getting, this has to be about 2011, where it’s getting difficult for cities to support things like symphony orchestras. And yet, when I was looking online before you came in I saw a lot of those kind of stories in 2013, 2014. I don’t see them in 2015, 16 and 17 and I’m looking at this statistics here and we have about as many symphony orchestras today as we did in 1998. What has the industry done as a whole to find a niche to survive?

Steven L.: Well we have the same, but a lot of orchestras have come and gone in that period. I think if you looked at sort of the mean of orchestral finances, it’s probably declined somewhat in the last 15, 20 years. There have been some orchestras that have gone under and have been replaced by orchestras with much lower budgets. You might have still an orchestra that services that particular symphony, but the musicians are paid less, they have less services. A lot of people look at this and attribute this to well classical music is declining, but it’s always been the minority art form. It hasn’t been as disconnected from popular culture as it is as it is today. They were much closer at one time.
What really happened I think is in the 1960s the Ford Foundation came up with a report in a grant program that basically tried to raise the income of orchestral musicians and sort of raised the bar for orchestras across the country. They encouraged orchestras to increase their number of performances, increase the amount that they paid the musicians, with the idea that this infusion of money was really sort of going to jumpstart the whole classical music scene to give it this new vitality. It did for a while and then it fizzled out. When it fizzles out you have a situation where an orchestra that’s developed, now they’ve become a full time orchestra, they’re playing 48 weeks out of the year or something like that. He’s making a good living at that orchestra, that orchestra goes under, there’ll be an orchestra that will come back and take its place, but now they’re not full time musicians anymore they’re only part-time. They’re not making nearly as much money.
I think that the Ford Foundation initiative really overshot and ended up producing in the 1970s an artificially large and robust symphonic music business that really was unsustainable. Now of course in Europe these initiatives have always been government funded at least largely government funded. They don’t worry about ticket sales and stuff like that. The government takes care of that, less so today than it used to but musicians come over from Europe and they’re just amazed that we just don’t get government support here. They just assume that, “Well we have this in Europe. Doesn’t everybody have this?”

Alex Gary: There was another statistic I wanted to ask you about and it comes out of this study I found. 2013 with a moment of transition and ticket buying as single ticket revenues and group sales exceeded subscription revenues for the first time. Is it that about the time that that happened in Rockford as well?

Steven L.: It probably happened a couple of years before that because really, of course, the recession hit here in about 2007 and we noticed it really in about 2009, I think, I might be off by a year, but that’s about right. The first year we thought, “Well gee, maybe we’re not going to get hit by this at all,” and then after that, just a little bit of a delayed reaction. Twenty five years ago the bible for orchestra and opera companies was a book called “Subscribe Now” by Danny Newman who was the marketing director of the Lyric Opera. His model was, to survive, to really prosper, you want to sell the subscriptions because that’s your money upfront. Those are your committed people, after that you sell the tickets to fill up the hall. Nobody is making it on subscriptions anymore. Nobody, and I’m not just talking about some symphonies or opera. Series like the BMO Harris performance series, popular series. They can’t sell subscriptions anymore people’s time is just too precious now.
Whenever we do a strategic planning initiative we always do the SWOT analysis, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.

Jason Todd: They do that everywhere.

Steven L.: Everybody does that. Who are our threats? Are we threatened by other arts organizations. No. We’re threatened by people’s time, the lack of time. I think people look at their schedule this year and they say, “Are you kidding? I’m going to decide what I’m going to be doing in March and April? Eight months from now? No, I’ll just buy the single ticket and once I get there if I want to go I’ll buy another single ticket.

Alex Gary: So does that affect your scheduling or your choices?

Steven L.: It makes things a little bit dicier because when you had that subscription money you said, “Okay, well now all you gotta do is sell a certain number of tickets and we’ll make our goal and we’ll be fine.” Now when you’re going into the season you have to sell more than half of the house in order to make your financial goal. Every concert, every single performance is a … It a major challenge now. Marketing is much more important than it was.

Jason Todd: Without that subscription revenue that just kind of gives you that base, that sure thing, like you mentioned you go into every performance and now you’re kind of reselling yourself every time.

Steven L.: Then of course you’re subject to the whims of scheduling. If you’re you have a performance this weekend and there just so happens that there were three or four other big events in Rockford that week …. There’s only so much time and money to go around. One of the great debacles in scheduling happened here about five years ago. Todd Rundgren hired us to do two concerts and he had done these concerts in Europe and we were the first place in the United States that he was going to perform with the symphony orchestra. We scheduled two concerts here, and what did the BMO Harris Center do, they schedule Cheap Trick against both of those concerts in the same weekend.

Alex Gary: That wouldn’t happen nowadays with them under the same umbrella. Right?

Steven L.: Well, theoretically they were under the same umbrella at that time. No, it wouldn’t happen now. It wouldn’t happen but their thinking was, and it was kind of an outdated thinking, was “Well, two performances of each. You can go to see Cheap Trick on Friday night and you can go to see Todd Rundgren on Saturday night.” Well, except when you talk to people who are fans of both, they tell you things, “Getting a babysitter both of those nights was impossible,” and you talk about going out for dinner and the concert, that’s a lot of money on a weekend, these are realities. We’ve got to be looking at that too, just in our scheduling. If we have too many events on top of each other, we have less attendance. We try to schedule things about a month apart on the whole and that tends to work out pretty well.

Jason Todd: What’s the next exciting thing coming up for Rockford Symphony Orchestra?

Steven L.: Now are you talking about in terms of our next concert or our next big endeavor?

Jason Todd: No, I’m thinking what’s your next-