A crusade is a tricky activity.

It’s much like a battle, and we should try to pick battles we have a chance of winning. But, true crusades are often waged out of emotion and passion. The odds of winning may be small, but the issue at hand is too important to let the odds deter the ultimate goal.

And that’s the case with the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. The preservation of the orchestra as a professional organization is too important to give up the fight in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

It’s no secret the BJSO is in financial stress. Tight budgets and dwindling financial support were plaguing the orchestra before COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made matters worse.

The BJSO is not the only nonprofit facing cash flow and other financial crisis. It’s a widespread crisis.

The orchestra, however, in addition to money woes, has an operational dispute among board members that could change the entire mission of the orchestra, a change that could eventually lead to its demise, at least as we now know it.

Here’s the BJSO problem in a nutshell. Some members of the board want to deal with the fiscal crisis by turning the clock back and diminishing the orchestra’s reputation and its mission—in essence, its reason for existence.

According to the BJSO website, the orchestra was formed in 1953 as a voluntary community organization. Through the years, some of the musicians started to be paid as independent contractors, but it was not until music director/conductor Rob Tomaro arrived in 1999 that the BJSO became recognized as a truly professional orchestra.

Under Tomaro’s leadership, the BJSO’s mission “to engage and enrich our community through the power and performance of live symphonic music” was fully realized.

Tomaro’s value to the orchestra is immense. He brought to the BJSO his talent and accomplishments as a conductor, composer and member of orchestras around the world. He is the recipient of two Grammy nominations and serves as a music education leader.

Tomaro earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in music composition from New York University while serving as music director of the New York University Symphony Orchestra. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University.

His educational background is important to the BJSO’s educational outreach through the Conducting Kids program he founded to work with area schools and their students.

All of this is to say that Tomaro, the educational and community activities he organizes and the paid musicians of the orchestra add up to the BJSO’s description offered on its website. That description announced that “The Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra, now in its sixty-seventh year, is the professional symphony orchestra of Rock County.”

The key word there is professional.

The orchestra is in overall crisis because a movement by some board members is designed to eliminate the BJSO as a professional organization by way of getting rid of Tomaro, eliminate pay for musicians and turning things over to guest conductors.

This is a step backward that cannot be implemented.

Rock County is unique for several reasons. One of the most important is a professional symphony orchestra, something most communities do not have. To return the BJSO to a voluntary community orchestra is to eliminate one of the community’s defining traits. It would be tantamount to replacing Rotary Botanical Gardens with a flower bed.

Retaining BJSO’s professional level requires a crusade. This crusade should be a community-level activity. We all need skin in the game through whatever contributions we can make and volunteering our services, but, unfortunately, that’s not enough.

Major benefactors need to step up with their checkbooks and their leadership skills. Going forward, the BJSO board members need to focus on professionalism or step aside. There is no substitute for professionalism.

Saving the professional BJSO is more than Mozart. The BJSO represents the soul of our community—a caring soul that provides residents with the soothing magic of the arts.

Stan Milam, a Janesville native, is the host of the “Stan Milam Show” on WCLO Radio.

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