This is Your Orchestra (2)

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A Profile of the Musicians of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra

The musicians buy their instruments, and then pay to insure them, maintain them and repair them as well. One violin string can cost $49; a set of four strings, which needs to be changed several times during a season, can cost $80 for a violin, and up to $150 for a cello. A set of harp strings can cost $500. Changing the hair on a bow costs about $40, and must be done several times a season. Oboists, clarinetists and bassoonists use reeds that can cost thousands of dollars a year. The basic equipment needed by oboists and bassoonists to make their “double” reeds costs upwards of $3,000. Horn players, trumpet players, trombonists and tuba players are continually experimenting with mouthpieces, “lead pipes,” and other things, which non-musicians would mistake for inventory from a plumbers’ supply, but which to those musicians represent a substantial personal investment.

Concert clothes are costly to buy and maintain. Annual costs reported in the questionnaire ranged from $90 to $2,000, with an average of $435 per musician.

Playing an instrument on a professional level can cause injuries. At least 50% of the members of the PRSO have had problems related to their playing, such as: muscular spasms (back, neck, etc.,) tendinitis, torn muscle because of a fall in the orchestra pit, carpal tunnel syndrome, adhesive capsulaitis, back pain, etc.

Playing an instrument on a professional level also causes the musician to think of the possible consequences of participating in activities, such as sports. There are few professional musicians who play basketball, volleyball, football, or baseball, and there aren’t many who use skates. An accident with a knife, in the kitchen, or while making reeds, can be disastrous.

Considering all of this—long hours of practice that can cause injuries, thousands of dollars invested in classes and instruments before auditioning, salaries that have to stretch to pay for the cost of instruments, maintenance, and concert clothes—how can it be explained that Puerto Rico has a professional Symphony Orchestra, full of musicians from “home,” which has presented concerts in Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Spain, and is said to sound at the level of good orchestras around the world?

There are various factors which explain the success of the PRSO. Among them, the government support during 50 years is what has permitted the Symphony Orchestra to arrive at the level to which it has arrived.

Another factor in the success of the PRSO is its “feeder system” - the teachers in the institutions such as the Free Schools of Music and the Conservatory of Music of PR have worked arduously during this time to encourage the talented youth to excel.

The musical families (and non-musical ones, as well) have invested their time and money in musical education for their children (please see Appendix #3.)

The musicians are passionate about what they do. In the questionnaire, the motives most often indicated for playing in the PRSO, and tied in number, were:

In second place, the Symphony musicians replied:

The artists who have come to Puerto Rico as soloists and conductors have been a great source of inspiration. Many of the musicians of the PRSO grew up with the Casals Festivals, hearing Casals himself, and the most important soloists of that era. Now, the PRSO is the official orchestra of the Casals Festival, and it is no happenstance. Great soloists and conductors have participated in the PRSO seasons, among them, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Sergiu Comisiona, Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Olga Kern, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti. Please see Appendix #4 for a list of those who have inspired our Symphony members.

Today, the PRSO consists of 63 men and 17 women. The three members with the least service rendered passed their auditions just months ago; seven members have completed more than 30 years. The average is 15.5 years of service. More than 50% of the musicians of the PRSO are married, with a total of 72 children amongst them. These musicians, with their spouses and children, form a family that serves Puerto Rico, from San Juan to Jayuya, on Saturday nights, Sundays at 4 p.m., and/or weeknights, in the great halls with fine acoustics, as well as in the basketball courts out on the island, in schools, in prisons, and in the malls. This great family of musicians of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra (please see Appendix #5 to appreciate some of their accomplishments) has been presented with Gilberto Santa Rosa in “Salsa Sinfónica,” and in Carnegie Hall, with Ana María Martínez as soloist. It has participated with “los Rayos Gama,” and with Plácido Domingo, with Henry Mancini conducting and with Guillermo Figueroa, hijo, at the podium, with the “Rondalla de Humacao” participating in the Three Kings Concert, featuring their guiro soloist with Downs Syndrome, and with Yo Yo Ma participating in the Casals Festival, playing the Dvorak Concerto.

The PRSO has participated with almost all the artistic institutions on the island: the Casals Festival, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, CulturArte, Opera de Puerto Rico, Opera “al Fresco”, Pro Arte, the San Juan Children’s Choir, the Philharmonic Choir , Ballet Concierto, Andanza, Ballets de San Juan, the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, the Free Schools of Music, the Universities of Puerto Rico (all 11 campuses,) etc.

The PRSO has presented soloists, conductors, and composers from the island by the dozen: Justino Díaz, Ana María Martínez, Antonio Barasorda, Margarita Castro, Magda Nieves, Ilca López, César Hernández, Ricardo Morales and his siblings Mariano, Jaime, Sonia, and Jesús, Pedro Díaz, Henry Hutchinson, Rafael Figueroa, Narciso Figueroa, Ivonne Figueroa, Guillermo Figueroa (and their parents and uncles,) Emilio Colón, Roselín Pabon, Rafael Enrique Irizarry, Roberto Sierra, Roberto Milano, Jack Delano, Amaury Veray, Hector Campos Parsi. The list is long and full of illustrious names of those who had the opportunity to express their art before their countrymen, with the sponsorship of their government. What goal is more glorious for a country than that? The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra has a role in the culture identity of the island that is no less important than the Miss Universes, the champion boxers, and the “salseros.”

Now is not the moment to abandon the fiscal or artistic support of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. As the new music director, Maximiano Valdés, said: “It is the calling card of the country.” The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, the best prepared musicians on the island, now with its new hall, the Pablo Casals Symphony Hall, in the Fine Arts Center, is available to its people, to present any music in any place. As one musician expressed in the questionnaire: “The Symphony Orchestra is the jewel in the crown of the Puerto Rican culture.” Please support it!

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