The Sidney Classical Orchestra, here seen supporting violinist Rebecca Reader-Lee during the 2017 edition of the annual Young Soloist Concert, faces a shortfall of cash and volunteers. (Black Press Media File)

Lack of volunteers may silence Sidney Classical Orchestra

SCO has already cancelled one of its four shows scheduled for this season

A shortage of volunteers may force a local classical orchestra to curtail future performances.

The Sidney Classical Orchestra (SCO) has already cancelled one of its four shows scheduled for the 2019-2020 season and may cancel additional shows if it cannot find volunteers to serve in various administrative functions.

The SCO has been performing for 26 years, playing classical favourites from Beethoven, Bach and others. Depending on availability, the orchestra features up to 20 musicians paid at union rates.

“For this year, we should be able to do two concerts, one of them being the young soloist concert,” said Ian Reid, a SCO board member in an interview with the Peninsula News Review. “If we are quick, we could maybe do a third.”

The orchestra could end up cancelling up to half of its regularly scheduled shows, a development that would limit cultural offerings in the community and deny musicians opportunities to develop their respective careers as the SCO often serves as a stepping stone.

Within this context, the SCO stages an annual show featuring young soloists from the area. Many of the students go on to the best music schools in North America and professional careers locally and elsewhere, such as Nicki Chooi who became concertmaster for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

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“We are pretty well the only classical concert society in Sidney and on the Peninsula,” he said. “There are bands, there are concerts, but it is also popular, more modern stuff. So we will have lost that classical music. And it would be a loss to the young musicians who want to make it a career.”

Reid said the SCO decided to cancel its first show of the 2019-2020 season following the society’s annual general meeting in late October, a point he had made earlier in an email to supporters that called the need for volunteers “urgent.”

“We still have an excellent artistic director [Stephen Brown] and willing musicians,” he said. “You are now being asked to rescue the remaining concert season by offering your time and talent to fill administrative positions.”

Brown is a published composer who has taught at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. An Associate of the Canadian Music Centre, Brown has had his work performed by the Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria symphony orchestras. He also handles administrative duties, but his current composing work has overwhelmed him, said Reid.

Reid said later that the orchestra has basically reached a “standstill” in listing the open positions that the society needs to fill. “We need a treasurer, we need a fundraiser, we need community relations, and maybe one other [volunteer],” said Reid. “And before the season is out, we need a president.”

So why is the society struggling to fill these positions?

“People are so busy, and a lot of them don’t want to get involved,” he said. “In my view, we do need some younger blood – somebody who has just retired, somebody in their late 50s, early 60s, couples, would be just excellent.”

The orchestra also faces financial troubles. Minutes from the society’s AGM show that private donations and audience numbers were down, while musician fees are up.

The society’s balance sheet shows just under $2,000, which in the words of Brown was “not enough to present a concert season.”

Overall, financial statements ending on June 30, 2019 show expenses exceeded revenues by almost $3,000, the main reason being the loss of a grant from the Capital Regional District of $6,000, according to the documents. Grants from North Saanich ($500) and an increase in the grant from Sidney to $1,500 helped to partially offset this loss. This said, the society received a gaming grant worth $6,000 to stage its concert for young soloists.

Reid said the SCO’s appeal for volunteers has yielded some results, and all its current troubles, Reid still sees the orchestra around in five years.

“We are going to get it going,” he said. “And Stephen feels it is going to get going.”


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