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Pennies for the pipers |

Pennies for the pipers

Colin McNickle
| Sunday, October 6, 2002 12:00 a.m

Political, business and foundation leaders, this column is not for you. Nor, I should stress, is it a swipe at you.

Parents and teachers, this column is not for you, either. But I do ask for your help. This column is for the kids. So, I ask that all parents within the sound of my keyboard share the following words with your children. Teachers, please share them with your class.

Many, many centuries ago, the Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote that “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

Centuries later, in the 14th to be precise, the English poet Philip Sidney said that “A lamentable tune is the sweetest music to a woeful mind.”

Or as Francis Bacon, the English statesman of the following century put it, “Generally, music feedeth the disposition of the spirit which it findeth.”

“What passion cannot music raise and quell?” asked John Dryden, another of the great British poets.


The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, one of the finest in the world, finds itself in a time of need. I won’t trouble you with the intricate details of its woes, but in woe it is. Circumstances being what they are, the PSO does not have enough money to meet its obligations.

In fact, the orchestra needs raise at least $500,000 by the end of this year. It’s planning what’s known as a marketing campaign to raise that money and pour a foundation that will, hopefully, enable it to raise millions more. Simply put, it’s asking current and former supporters to donate more money.

The PSO also hopes to encourage young people to partake in the symphony experience. The thinking goes that young folks exposed to classical music and the orchestra will grow up to be its and their patrons or, in another word, supporters. And symphony officials would be right.

Yes, your parents, through some of their tax dollars, already support the arts, in general, and the symphony, in particular. But these days that’s not enough to pay for such a large ensemble of some of the most talented and professional musicians in the world and an equally talented conductor.

Big companies around the region — great champions of the orchestra for many, many decades — aren’t as numerous as they once were. Some of the remaining corporations haven’t been able to give as much money as they once did because of economic conditions. Yes, they make a lot of money still, but there’s not as much to go around.

The same goes for some of the philanthropic foundations in our area. They do a wonderful job of helping to pay for worthy causes. But the money they make from their investments, too, has fallen. Again, there’s not as much money available to help pay for all the things they would like to help pay for.

Nobody’s now talking about the orchestra going bankrupt, though you might have heard that kind of talk a few weeks ago. But if it can’t raise the money it needs to maintain its operations, PSO officials say they would have to implement some pretty serious cost-cutting measures. (That’s on top of some cost reductions already made.) And that , they lament, could take the “world-class” out of Pittsburgh’s world-class orchestra.

Think of it as a violin with three strings, not four. Think of it as a clarinet with no reed, a drum with no skin, a trumpet with no valves or a piano with sharps and no flats. More simple still, think of it as a salad with no dressing or a Happy Meal with no fries.

So, kids, I’m asking for your help.

As the historical quotations at the beginning of this column note, music plays an incredibly important role in our lives.

It makes us think. It makes us cry. It makes us laugh. It can lull us to sleep. It can inspire us to act. It’s wild sounds civilized into time and tune — its discipline — can conquer the most undisciplined character.

The part of your brain that you use to listen to music, and to learn to read and play and appreciate it, complements the other parts of your brain used in your other classes and in everyday life. I’ll venture to say that your music education makes you a better student.

Sadly, a life without music would be like a life without color, sweets, Internet chat rooms or family.

Music makes us better human beings. And we cannot afford to lose the music in Pittsburgh.

Hence, I’m asking you, the kids of Pittsburgh and every suburb, to help save the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.


Send or bring your pennies, nickels and dimes, quarters, half-dollars and dollars to me, in care of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I’m in the D.L. Clark Building at 503 Martindale Street, 3rd Floor. The zip code is 15212.

I look forward to hearing from you. I’ll make sure symphony officials get your contribution. And I’m sure they’ll appreciate every penny. Let’s show the adults how important classical music is to you.

Thanks, kids. Now, please, turn this column back to your parents or teachers.

This all may sound a bit hokey to some of the adults in the audience — my urging children to give the piper the proverbial penny to play. I don’t much care.

Surely, it’s a Trib publicity stunt, others might say. No, it’s not.

What, others might ask, can a few kids’ pennies — even their dollars — matter• Perhaps more than we can imagine, I say.

What I care about deeply herein today is the PSO and our ability as a society to teach our children to support with their benevolence the things that matter .

And the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra matters.

Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, once said that music is the art in which form and matter are always one, “the art whose subject cannot be separated from the method of its expression, the art which most completely realizes the artistic ideal.”

It is, Mr. Wilde added, “the condition to which all the other arts are constantly aspiring.”

It is this “condition” we all must work together to preserve for Pittsburgh. Oh, how dreary our little corner of Penn’s Wood would be without it.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy and can be reached via email.

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