- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — Some supporters of the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra say they are upset about plans to reorganize the musicians’ group, a move designed to increase student involvement and save money.

Faced with severe cuts in state funding, university administrators are reviewing all programs affiliated with the college, including the orchestra.

Since the orchestra was formed in 1985, university students have been outnumbered by community volunteers and paid professionals.

Five advisory board members resigned in January to protest a letter from university administrators calling for an overhaul of operations that would result in student musicians making up more than half of the orchestra.

The move was prompted by a $28,000 deficit in the orchestra’s budget.

“A large part of what makes this an expensive operation is the paid professionals. The principal players are usually professionals, while students play a secondary role,” said Timothy O’Rourke, dean of the Fulton School of Liberal Arts.

Musician fees of $125 per artist make up more than 80 percent of the deficit, which has been covered by the Salisbury University Foundation.

“We’ve spent more than we’ve collected, and the foundation has had to bail us out,” said Lester Simpson, chairman of the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra Advisory Board.

The foundation also eliminated a $19,000-per-year orchestra clerical position, Executive Director Albert Mollica said.

Some longtime supporters of the orchestra are not happy with the proposed changes.

“I thought this was a disaster,” said Peter Jackson, a former board member. “It’s one step toward destroying the symphony.”

In addition to serving on the advisory board, Mr. Jackson is also a major financial supporter of the symphony. In 2001, he pledged $100,000 to the symphony as part of the Perdue-Kresge Challenge — a matching-grant endowment fund.

Though the orchestra has been losing money for several years — at an annual rate of about $5,500 — its financial status should improve as a result of Mr. Jackson’s gift.

Fund-raising for the endowment — overseen by the Salisbury University Foundation — is nearly complete. Another $5,000 needs to be raised to reach a goal of $200,000 that would make the orchestra eligible for a Perdue-Kresge matching grant.

Mr. Jackson thinks the symphony would be better off if it became a regional performing group separate from the university.

“I’m still deeply committed to good classical music on the Eastern Shore. What is happening is not going to lead to a symphony of excellence,” he said.

Critics of the plan to change membership say the university does not have enough students capable of making up more than half the orchestra.

Thomas Elliot, who conducts the orchestra, said Salisbury has trouble attracting qualified musicians because it does not have music scholarships to offer to students.

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