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For the second time in three years, the University of Michigan held the American Orchestra Summit. The late March gathering brought together musicians, managers, scholars, presenters and students from around the country. The main purpose: To determine how to meet today’s most pressing challenges to the survival and future of orchestras.

During three days of presentations, panel and open discussions, participants shared observations about the changing trends of audiences’ tastes and spending patterns, along with how to respond to decreased demand for subscriptions and decline in philanthropy.

While American orchestras have faced many financial challenges over the past century, the myriad changes of digital recording and the communications revolutions have fundamentally altered how and where audiences listen to classical and popular music.

“It’s remarkable how well orchestras have done in this environment,” said keynote speaker Bruce Ridge, chair of International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians. “We need to stop having a negative image within our filed.”

In addition to detailed descriptions of what’s working at the country’s most successful orchestras, there were several stark sessions exploring the financial challenges facing today’s musicians.

Yet beyond marketplace realities and the concerns about the future of orchestras, participants reaffirmed the commitment for higher education to honor the role of the arts in American society.

“Our chellenge as educators is to open students to a broader view of the world, and to get them to realize the arts as critical to the health and survival of our culture,” said Christopher Kendall, dean of U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

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