And the Band Stopped Playing: The Rise and Fall of the San Jose Symphony is a depressing book.
Not that there’s much about the final years of the San Jose Symphony that isn’t depressing. Having been a classical music student at San Jose State University during the 1990’s, I’d like to be able to say that I was one of a posse of fanatics in the best college student tradition that followed the SJS around as if they were the Dave Matthews Band, that shook our suburban fists at the competition in San Francisco, and gazed longingly at the upcoming programs of the more risky stuff getting played in Berkeley back then. Gazing, that is, with full confidence that someday similar sounds would shake the seventies out of that ugly, Peppermill-styled, un-forgivably, just, well, circular, Center for The Performing Arts.
I’d like to be able to say that, but I can’t. Mid-twenties cluelessness is solidly to blame. That should really be the end of the story, frankly, I’d deserve it, but as authors Dr. Thomas Wolf and Nancy Glaze point out, there’s much and many more to blame here.
Most of it, though, points to the SJS as another mid-nineties example of enterprise without opportunity, business exploiting a market for its goods that didn’t exist. In that it was hardly unique. Unlike everycompany.com, though, the SJS, as a symphony, was something that should exist, or so most of us thought, even if we didn’t attend performances. Cities near to cities like San Francisco work on filling a big-city template that includes institutions like a symphony orchestra even more than others.
The San Jose Sharks NHL franchise exists for similar reasons. A city with as many Midwestern transplants as San Jose was a natural place for the NHL to expand, but that expansion fit nicely with an ongoing push by San Jose to redevelop it’s downtown. A multi-use indoor venue with a guaranteed number of annual events because of the hockey team was a natural part of that push.
The template directed that the capitol of Silicon Valley, in the shadow of the homes of the Warriors, the 49ers, the Raiders, the A’s, and the Giants, should have a major sports franchise, and so it built a venue, as part of urban redevelopment, and the NHL came to town.
That’s where things diverge though. The template calls for institutions like symphony orchestras and sports franchises, but where the Sharks didn’t come to town so much as the NHL did, the SJS stood alone, or as the most interesting part of And The Band Stopped Playing points out, alone in a crowded room. There are a lot of classical music performances in and around San Jose annually, even without the SJS, and the San Francisco Symphony isn’t even a plurality of those.
The authors are writing about the SJS, and symphony orchestras in this day in age, so they understandably come to a conclusion about the SJS, and not the city: that the SJS should have been more responsive to its market, done more effective outreach, and been more frugal. They’re probably right, but the story of the SJS says something important about San Jose too. What kind of city is San Jose? Judging by the amount of music being played, and other cultural presentations and arts education in the Santa Clara Valley, the arts are clearly something that this community values. That may not have to correlate with the big city template that stipulates institutions like symphony orchestras. I understand that a book that looks at the Santa Clara Valley’s post-agricultural implementation of that template is not the book the authors of And the Band Stopped Playing wrote, but such a book would continue the story.