It is often difficult to think with the utmost clarity and then to say what you actually think. I was reminded of this recently on reading an article, published in the Australian Daily Review, about the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
There is to be a forthcoming postal survey in Australia on the matter of same-sex marriage. The Board of the SSO informed staff that the Board had decided not to publicly support the ‘yes’ campaign in the postal survey. The reason the SSO Board gave for this directive was that it did not want to politicize music. In taking this stance, the Board of the SSO was, in the words of one critic, “defying the palpable solidarity of the arts community and its manifold supporters.” The latter included the vast majority of major performing arts companies in Australia.
It would seem, however, that the SSO Board’s desire not to politicize music has not always been consistent. It has performed in countries and for organisations that would counteract a consistent position on the matter. Yes, indeed, it is often difficult to think with the utmost clarity and then to say what you actually think.
We live in an age of rapid change: in social philosophy and societal trends, expression and communications (of these changes); the desire for personal freedoms that co-exist with the relics of community conservatism (still a major component of Australian life, as it is of life in the UK, and not to be confused with genuine liberalism – politicians take note); the frustration of living in that ‘in-between time’ when ideology, morality and levels of social awareness of the ‘other’ are struggling to catch-up with and maintain its co-existence with the realities of contemporary living.
This is true whether we talk about political persuasion, human rights, religious beliefs or social equality. It is true also of the life we live within the confines of our own personal and individual cosmos as it is of the community or the nation. But this is not new to those who have lived longer than a single generation.
Many of yesterday’s intellectual and practical causes are today’s living realities. Today’s praxis forms the basis for the arguments and eventual realities of tomorrow. Therefore, it is to be celebrated that human freedoms have been extended, in the area of human identity as much as in any other field.
However, the value of continuing deliberation about, even opposition to, those ideals and practices we now hold dear and consider to be a further liberation of the human being, is that we are forced to maintain the practical and intellectual efforts we have made in order to consolidate the gains that have been won, the efforts that form the basis of further advances. Time moves on, and with it opinion and further challenges to the evolution of the human spirit.
Perhaps the SSO (and its existential views) has purposes beyond merely making marvellous music in which to be immersed. In this event, it is to be noted that an update from the SSO Board stated the following: “It has always been the case that the SSO has engendered organisational initiatives and performances that reflect an abiding commitment to inclusiveness, fairness and acceptance and that the company has at its core a commitment to everyone in our community – regardless of gender, orientation, cultural background or religious belief – of performing music to the highest calibre for which the orchestra is celebrated around the world.”
In making this further statement it seems that the company came to the view that it did not have the right to take a position that would commit its stakeholders to one side or another of the debate. Therefore, the Board of the SSO has decided that it should remain neutral. However, it also stated its desire that all Australians should “respect the democratic process of the majority decision, one way or another, in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation towards each other in a peaceful resolution.”
Australians have yet to vote in the national market research project ‘referendum’ on same-sex marriage and, in so doing, to decide as to whether or not it will join the twenty-two other countries that have legislated for same-sex marriage. This is an opportunity for Australian to think with clarity and then to speak what they actually think.
In the meantime, Leo Schofield (a former chairman of the SSO Board), considers that the Board has indicated that, at least, it will not align the organisation with “the antediluvian Catholic Archbishops of Sydney and Brisbane, the ginned-up contributors to the skewed letter pages of The Australian, the smoke-screening nonentities of the Christian right and those parliamentarians too cowardly to put the issues to a vote on the floor of the House.”
The Board of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has decided its position in the matter of same-sex marriage. In changing its initial stance from one of not publicly supporting the ‘yes’ campaign in the postal survey to its present position of neutrality, it has shown that it is often difficult to think with the utmost clarity and then to say what you think. What is true of the world of music is mirrored in life generally.