Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Musical Philadelphia
Quakers never cared much for music, but the city has nonetheless musically flourished into international fame. At the same time, quarrels and internal battles have also been world class.

The characteristic American behavior called volunteerism got its start with Benjamin Franklin's Junto, and has been a source of comment by foreign visitors ever since. It's still a very active force.

Culture and Traditions (2)

The Savoy and the Orpheus

Much of the music in Philadelphia is world-class, produced by eminent professionals who command high salaries for their work. As a result of many years of striving, through unions and otherwise, it is getting a little difficult to afford all this talent and excellence. That's one reason there is so much amateur musical effort, although it must be admitted that a city which appreciates music will almost surely generate a lot of amateur effort, just for the love of performing.

{The Pirates of Penzance}
The Pirates of Penzance

The Savoy Company, putting on Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and the Orpheus Club, which is an all-male choral society, were founded in Philadelphia around 1875. Both groups have little trouble attracting membership, although the members of the Savoy generally only perform for four or five seasons and then become inactive members. Members of the Orpheus commonly remain active members for fifty years, so it's harder for a newcomer to find a vacancy. Membership applications may possibly be enhanced at the Savoy by its reputation, deserved or undeserved, as a marriage market. At one time, fifty or more years ago, both organizations had a reputation for hard drinking, but during those days of Prohibition, many clubs served that function. Nowadays, alcohol is not a necessity with either of them.

{The Kimmel Center}
The Kimmel Center

The exceedingly high hall-rental costs of the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music are getting to be a problem for these amateur groups. The Savoy is lucky to be invited to have two performances a year at Longwood Gardens, and neither organization has to contend with paying professional musicians like its commercial competitors. Many performers in the Philadelphia Orchestra donate their time for the Savoy, among whom William Kincaid the famous flutist was one of the most enthusiastic. Without this help, it's unlikely the organizations would survive. Certainly, it would be hard to distribute four tickets per performance to members of the clubs, while striving to keep membership high.
All of this is just one facet of the general dilemma that it is increasingly impossible to break even in the performing arts, by ticket sales alone. Many taxpayers are Luke warm about music and see no reason why they should support it with taxes, and philanthropists can be fickle. It's a delicate balancing act because philanthropists are easily infuriated by strikes, and politicians are seldom attracted by what may be called the finer things. When the economy turns sour, ticket-buyers flee.

Originally published: Wednesday, June 21, 2006; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Savoy was founded in 1901.
Posted by: Taradiddle   |   May 8, 2011 4:54 PM
also your orpheus "link" is to the wrong club!
Posted by: orpheus redux   |   Sep 15, 2010 4:08 PM
Check your facts! Orphues would be offended to learn that they have lost their reputation as drinkers.
Posted by: Cross Hurley   |   Sep 15, 2010 4:07 PM