Just two years ago, the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) were unable to come to a contract agreement with the Woodruff Arts Center management and were shut down. Concerts were canceled. The musicians were literally locked out of the performance hall. The negotiating teams eventually came to an agreement, at the expense of salaries and several players, but this past September, the ASO musicians were locked out again, stopping their 70th anniversary season before it even began.
Growing up in the Atlanta metro area, Leigh Johnson, Trinity ‘18, took advantage of every music opportunity available. Now a freshman at Duke, Leigh continues to study music privately and is a member of the Duke Symphony Orchestra. However, she has never let go of her past and seeks to give back to the organization that has had such a positive influence on her life. After reading an article in September officially declaring the ASO locked out until an agreement could be reached, she contacted Paul Murphy, ASO associate principal violist and president of the players’ association, to voice her support for the orchestra and her thanks for all the years of training and music immersion. In the midst of negotiations and upset, it was Leigh’s message that lifted the ASO musicians’ spirits and this made her realize how much of a difference she could make. “It showed me the impact that a voice like mine could have. Even though I may not be in Atlanta, I still have a voice,” Leigh said.
Having seen the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra reach out to the Atlanta community again and again, through free concerts in nursing homes, charity events in hospitals and inner-city youth music development programs in poor schools, Leigh reached out through Facebook to her community: young musicians. Hoping to emulate the ASO’s community standard, Leigh advocated for the recognition of music as a means through which lives are positively changed. “Typically it’s the adults that do all the talking in these negotiations. I wanted to give the youth in Atlanta an opportunity to express what the ASO has meant to them and how it helped them develop as musicians and individuals,” Leigh said. By providing a forum for young musicians from Atlanta and around the world, Leigh was also helping to strengthen the public argument in favor of the orchestra.
And Project Perpetua was born. In recognition of the 2012 lockout’s slogan, “The Music is Ongoing,” Project Perpetua has been gaining momentum in the international music community. “We may not be providing money, but if our thoughts even reach one person, we have made an impact,” Leigh said. As the Facebook “likes” grow, students are given an opportunity to send in a submission sharing how they have grown through music and the ASO. Receiving a tremendous amount of eloquent and thought-provoking responses, Leigh continues striving to reach greater and greater audiences. Speaking to the Duke Symphony Orchestra, facilitating dialogue one on one and educating adults on what music truly means in education, she is directly fighting for the ASO musicians and their families, who went two months without salaries and medical insurance during the lockout that ended this week.
While at Duke, Leigh is also involved with ArtsConnect, a student organization that facilitates weekly art projects at the Emily K Center. The program, Leigh said, “provides a place for [the students] to be creative and gives them an opportunity to think differently, taking something that they wouldn’t ordinarily see as art and giving them a new perspective.” This program resonates with Leigh because it reminds her of the ASO’s famous Talent Development Program for inner city kids in Atlanta. Receiving private instruction and given the opportunity to perform in recitals, graduating students of the ASO Talent Development Program have been accepted to top music schools in the nation, such as The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music.
Due to the canceled concerts and the locked out orchestra, many have been affected, including over 400 students who were unable to audition for the Atlanta Youth Orchestra this season and the immeasurable amount of children who stopped attending concerts and may never be inspired to pick up an instrument for the first time. In order to prevent another lockout from happening again, Leigh continues to give a voice to those who wish to share what music means to them – a voice that is getting louder and stronger with each submission.
As a direct result of positive community support throughout the negotiations, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra signed a new four-year contract this week. Music is ongoing and the ASO musicians keep doing what they do best… donating their lives to inspiring others through music.
Image “Atlanta Symphony Hall lobby, Midtown Atlanta GA” by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons -http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atlanta_Symphony_Hall_lobby,_Midtown_Atlanta_GA.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Atlanta_Symphony_Hall_lobby,_Midtown_Atlanta_GA.jpg