Thoughts on the Youtube Symphony Orchestra

Miss Mussel has a piece on the Culture Monster blog about the grand finale concert, the gist of which is:

Like the final showcase after a week of band camp, when all the parents come to collect their children, Sunday’s concert was all about the players’ experience. The problem is: If you weren’t there it doesn’t really mean anything.
[…]
What digital projections, sand artists, new compositions, star soloists, a massive budget and buckets of goodwill couldn’t hide was that it takes more than a week to make an orchestra
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The comments are definitely worth a read, as they provide alternative perspective from a member and an organizer of YTSO 2011.

After further thinking on the matter, it seems that the kernel of Miss Mussel’s argument is that the extras are exciting and attract attention but underneath, there needs to be a top notch orchestra. This absolutely can be achieved –there are plenty of extremely talented amateurs out there, many of which were in the orchestra — but it takes time to build a cohesive group. Why settle for a sandcastle when everyone is there to build a pyramid?

Miss Mussel doesn’t doubt the good intentions of Google and the mentors drawn from major world orchestras and she is absolutely certain that the whole thing was a life-changing experience for the players. Still, it is difficult to see what has been accomplished here.

Consider this: Groups of concerned citizens decide they want to help in some part of the world and decide to start an organization or charity that will deliver medical supplies or teachers to The Congo. Their intentions are good and no one doubts that they genuinely want to make a change but when all is said and done, they would be far further ahead to put their time and resources into groups like Doctors Without Borders or World Vision that already have programs set up to get help to people quickly and sustainably.

Does it make more sense for Google to use the resources it set aside for the YTSO to back the New World Symphony or get involved in the El Sistema-style programs that are popping up all over the globe? What about funds for existing youth orchestra or adult amateur ensembles so members can have lessons if they wish, buy instruments or do community work?

What do you think?

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