November 30, 2020

Webster Suspends Symphony Orchestra

In May, Webster University suspended the 45-year-old Webster University Symphony Orchestra (WUSO) for the 2012-2013 school year.

Tony Morales, senior violin performance major, said he was shocked when he first heard of the suspension. He has been in the WUSO for five years and planned on playing in it again this school year.

Morales commented on the benefits of the symphony orchestra consisting of not only students, but faculty, volunteers and professional musicians.

“It’s actually meant a great deal to me. You’re sitting next to a professional,” Morales said. “It was really cool to be able to sit next to someone that has already made it, and you just learn so much about the professional atmosphere in an orchestral setting.”

Morales has made a decision to play in Webster’s Chamber Orchestra, but also wants to perform with another symphony in the area.

Dr. Jeffrey Carter, department of music chair, sent an email to students in the Chamber Orchestra and the WUSO at the end of May informing them of the suspension. The email said the university has been reviewing programs for the past year.

“Through our review process, we have identified logistical, budgetary and pedagogical concerns that demand further study,” stated Carter’s email.

Carter said the WUSO’s situation was discussed for about six months before the university decided to suspend and review it.

Peter Sargent, dean of the Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts, said the decline in student participation, audience attendance and donor base all contributed to the suspension of the WUSO.

Sargent stated they have been reviewing and discussing the WUSO’s situation since they announced the suspension in May. They hope to have a decision made by December.

Dr. Allen Larson, now retired from Webster, conducted the WUSO for 36 years — from 1973 to 2009. Larson said he is disappointed in the suspension and thinks it could have been avoided. He suggested keeping the WUSO, but reducing the season (possibly four concerts instead of six).

“That would save a lot of money. They talked about other issues that concerned them, pedagogical issues and logistics issues — those are kind of red flags to me that mean they just don’t want to work hard enough to take care of whatever the problems were,” Larson said.

Carter said the decision to suspend the orchestra wasn’t an easy one. However, given the lack of donations and the orchestra’s expenses, they thought they should take a year to reassess the situation.

“We just thought that we really need to take a look for a year and figure out how we can rebuild this and make this work,” stated Carter.

The email Carter sent in May also stated that the music department wants to, “expand the scope and energies of the student/faculty Webster University Chamber Orchestra.”

The chamber orchestra is comprised of Webster students and faculty. Professor Paul Davis formed the chamber orchestra. He has also been the conductor of the WUSO the last three years.

One possible solution is for the WUSO to become its own non-for-profit, Carter said. It would still be connected to the university, but would have fundraising leadership separate from Webster.

That was the case with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep). It was suspended in the spring of 1970 due to budget concerns. The Rep reopened in the fall of 1971 as an independent entity — separate from Webster College.

“There will be something, but it won’t be what the Webster Symphony Orchestra was. Whether or not they try to bring back the WUSO as it was in any way, I just don’t know,” Larson said. “There would be a chance if the will and the energy were there.”

Carter said both positive and negative feedback regarding the decision has been attributed.

“I’ve received a number of communication from people saying, I really applaud the fact that you’re trying to find a really responsible way to spend the money that is allotted,” Carter said.

Carter stated the music department has a limited budget and wants it to impact “the most students in the best way.”

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