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The Case for an Independent Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra

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The undersigned musicians of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras (CSYO), members of the CSYO Parents' Association (CSYOPA), members of the Symphony Guild of Charlotte, and friends of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and classical music in Charlotte respectfully petition the board of the CSO to allow the CSYO to leave the CSO umbrella and form its own non-profit organization with an independent board of directors. This organization would be fully responsible for the financial, artistic, personnel, and educational direction of the CSYO. We are thankful for the many years of support and partnership from the CSO and hope for a stronger, not weaker, partnership with the CSO moving forward as each orchestra is able to focus more crisply on their respective musicians, patrons, and community.

As documented at, what is now the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO) was born from the vision of two independent non-profits focused on symphonic music in the Charlotte area: the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Symphony Guild of Charlotte. For many years, this three way partnership was beneficial to all parties and served the students and the community well. Most notably, the level of musicianship by the students, financial stability of the organization, and support of parents led to the CSYO being invited to play at Carnegie Hall in June 2017. This performance was favorably reviewed by Frank Daykin of the New York Concert Review, who said of their performance of Charbrier's España : "The players’ youthful enthusiasm was equaled by their instrumental ability. "

However, recent decisions by the CSO board of directors have persuaded the undersigned that to maintain that level of artistic integrity and commitment to the mission of the CSYO, a new governing structure is needed. An email to the members of the CSYO Parents Association (CSYOPA) from Mary A. Deissler, CEO of the CSO, announced that the CSO's music director was terminating Dr. Ernest Pereira, the music director of the CSYO since 1989. The rationale given was to improve the musical quality of the CSYO. While this is certainly within their right given the current governing structure, the undersigned feel this is completely out of touch with the reality of the direction of the CSYO. Put simply, the parents, volunteers, musicians, and staff of the CSYO are in a much better position to assess the artistic, educational, and financial needs of the CSYO.

This proposal petitions the CSO board for an amicable separation of the CSYO so that both organizations can execute on their mission with the independence and local control required.

According to the CSO's most recently available IRS 990 filing from their fiscal year 2016, the CSYO represents approximately 0.6% ($54K out of $9.8M) of the CSO's operating expenses and 0.8% of their revenue ($82K out of $10.5M). Given that, it is understandable that the CSYO does not command much of the attention of the CSO board.

However, as the numbers also indicate, the CSYO can cover its own expenses from student fees, ticket sales, and other existing sources of revenue. We do recognize that the CSYO derives some benefits from its relationship with the CSO which may not be reflected in those expense figures, e.g. use of music from the CSO's library, use of CSO owned instruments, sectional coaching by CSO musicians, and occasional guest conducting by the CSO's music director. If the CSO board approves this proposal to create an independent CSYO, we would fully expect the CSYO to pay fair market rates for these types of services in the future. Based on the current CSYO student fee structure and number of students participating in both CSYO orchestras, expected fee revenue for the 2018-19 season would be around $87K. If current expenses for CSYO staff, facilities rental, insurance, etc., are in the $54K range, the new CSYO board would have some headroom to absorb these new expenses.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who would make up this new board of directors of the CSYO?
The undersigned recommend that the CSYO Parents Association form a commission for the purpose of recommending a slate of candidates for an initial board. That board would be voted on by the members of the CSYOPA and if elected, would serve for an initial two-year term. One of that board's first tasks would be to draft a set of bylaws and other documents required to form a new non-profit organization and govern how officers are elected.

2. Why is this better for the CSYO?
Instead of being one of many programs the CSO is responsible for and a very small part of its overall mission, the new board would be 100% focused on the musicians and mission of the youth orchestras. This could allow for new concert schedules and venues, chamber music opportunities, and other areas of growth for the orchestra. It could also afford the opportunity for more experienced CSYO musicians to be an active part of the leadership of the CSYO.

3. Would fees increase?
Based on our understanding of the current revenue from student participation fees and ticket revenue, plus the CSYO's demonstrated ability to raise funds independently, and our understanding of the current expense structure of the CSYO, we do not expect fees to increase significantly for the 2018-19 season: $425 per student for JYO and $475 for CSYO.

4. Will auditions proceed as scheduled?
Yes, our intent is that all auditions would proceed as scheduled and would be judged by the current CSYO music director and coaches. Our goal is an orderly transition to this new governing structure in all areas.

5. Will CSYO camp proceed as scheduled?
Yes, that is our hope and desire. The Symphony Guild of Charlotte is an independent non-profit whose purpose "is to create, develop and promote an interest in symphonic music in the community of Charlotte and the surrounding metropolitan area and to provide financial and volunteer support to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, the Charlotte youth symphonies and symphonic educational activities. " Since the 1970s, that has included sponsoring a camp for the youth orchestra before the start of the season. We are hopeful that the new CSYO board would maintain a strong, working relationship with the Symphony Guild -- including for the CSYO camp.

6. Who would conduct and manage the CSYO?
Ultimately, those decisions would be left to the new board of the CSYO. It is our hope that Dr. Pereira and the rest of the CSYO staff would agree to work for the new board under similar terms during the two-year period.

7. How are other youth orchestras structured?
There are a number of models. Some, like the Atlanta Youth Orchestra are managed by the board of the local professional orchestra. Others, like the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra (PYSO) are "an independent youth orchestra in all governing, administrative and financial matters. " We feel strongly that the latter model is the best for the CSYO moving forward. It is worth noting that the PYSO maintains a strong working relationship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, including annual side-by-side concerts in Heinz Hall.

8. What if this proposal is rejected by the CSO board of directors?
That would be disappointing, but the undersigned feel strongly that any orchestra, whether made up of adult or youth musicians, can only thrive when the artistic decisions are made by those close to the patrons, musicians, and community it serves. We suspect the CSO feels the same way. If it were less than 1% of a larger umbrella arts organization, without its own board, and that board made personnel and artistic decisions from afar, those would not be in the best interest of the CSO.

This proposal asks to be treated the same way and allow the CSYO to stand on its own. This will ultimately make for a stronger and more vibrant CSYO. This proposal is the simplest and least disruptive path forward, but if it is rejected, the undersigned may pursue other options for the independence we seek, including forming a new youth orchestra based in Charlotte.

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