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Journalism by Shueh-li
Sonicfreakz  |  04 Jan 2010

It’s the Journey, not the Destination, Mr Valentine

 Alan Valentine, CEO-President Nashville Symphony

Alan Valentine, CEO-President Nashville Symphony © S. Ong

Nashville the music city travels under the noms de guerre ‘3rd Coast’. A case of the expression “small but dynamite” with no pun intended.

According to the wiki entry, the term “3rd Coast” is “used to describe several coastal regions distinct from the West Coast and the East Coast of the United States. While lacking an actual coast, the city of Nashville is sometimes referred to as the 3rd Coast, implying that its cultural significance rivals that of the traditional American coasts.

Aha you say. Despite the size of the township which gave off an intimate almost provincial-like setting, this 3rd coast had only just begun to bedazzle me.

Walk of Fame pic © Travel Channel

Walk of Fame pic (c) Travel Channel

In the entertainment district, a hop, skip and jump away from downtown Nashville, Tom (Brislin) spots the windows of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum shaped like keys of the piano. We mosey-on down and almost do a jig over the tiles that form the Music City walk of fame. Situated right in front of the Museum these tiles which were unveiled in 2006 bear the names that country music fans “whoop” over; Reba McEntire, Roy Obison, Ronnie Mishap … Whoop!

Adjacent to the Hall/Museum is the Sommet Center (pronounced ‘so’+‘may’) where the Nashville Predators play hockey and more in this concert arena.

Directly across the road and boldly claiming its position in the entertainment district and the SoBro neighbourhood (South of Broadway) is Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony and its CEO-President Alan D Valentine.

A project of the city, the neo-eclectic Schermerhorn (designed by David M. Schwarz and, opened in the same year as the Walk of Fame) was only a dream of Alan Valentine’s when he came on board as CEO. The symphony had until then rehearsed and performed in the multi-purpose hall called TPAC – Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

Laura Turner Concert Hall. © Shueh-li Ong

Laura Turner Concert Hall. © Shueh-li Ong

Valentine points to the interior of the center which is decorated with various motifs, one being that of coffee beans; says Valentine “The orchestra was found with Maxwell coffee house.” Valentine who is also addicted to coffee with lots of sugar claimed his reward for mission accomplished when the architect decided to adorn the interior with a sugar cube motif alongside the beans.

So Mr Valentine, do you have any other addictions besides coffee and arts administration? Music education!

Like all people who are called to head gargantuan tasks, Valentine was given his mission at an early age.

“When I was in high school I was very good in math and science.” Valentine, whose mother was head of the math department for the school district and his dad a research psychologist, had aimed to do aerospace engineering at Texas A&M when in his senior year, a new band director walked into his life. His fate was sealed. He switched from calculus to music theory and calmly told his parents that he was going to be a musician and not a engineer.

At the University of of Houston, while majoring in music and playing timpani, he got a job as the student orchestra manager. What he received was minimum wage but Valentine realised there was a bigger picture yet unexplored. At the age of 22 he made up his mind that steering the course of an orchestra was his passion. He got his first job as manager of an orchestra and so began his journey.

When people talk about “old school”, many fall into the trap of dissing the old fashion ways. It is a routine that needs proper clarification before pouncing on the subject. There is a difference between an archaic item having lost its usefulness (though not necessary value which might just be a lesson learnt) and an item that has gone through the wringer and upheld its credence.

Valentine is not ashamed to tell me that he came from old school; the school of hard knocks. Nothing prepared him for his chosen career.

Green room

Green room © S. Ong

So instead of pursuing arts administration, which was not a course offered in school (“multimedia” faced the same phenomenon in the mid to late ‘90s when hordes of people where clambering to study this popular profession but no schools were ready to offer them) Valentine surrounded himself with people whom he could learn from first hand. The first orchestra he managed had a volunteer book keeper who taught him manual double entry books, he adds, “This was the way before computers”. Understanding the breadth and depth of accounting accorded him a familiarity with the area no course of study could have. He has more than a good grasp of how a computerised accounting system works because he is more than familiar with the fundamentals, he even knows the area “Better than those who had studied it!”

“It’s the journey not the destination” underlines Valentine’s life and career. The unassuming Valentine’s motto is; learn from people’s mistakes, including your own.

I felt an immediate camaraderie with Alan Valentine. Despite his gentle exterior, this man has been places and worked his way up the ladder of success to be able to softly and gently persuade. He is definitely what I call a “mover and a shaker”. Originally from San Antonio Texas, he moved to Nashville in 1998. Prior to that he was in Oklahoma City managing the orchestra for 10 years. Before that it was Chattanooga TN’s symphony and opera company. Washington state, Greensboro NC, and San Antonio preceded Chattanooga.

Valentine does not hesitate to inform me with pride that the hallmark of the Nashville Symphony’s success is a firm commitment to the creating and preserving of a proportion of distinctively American repertoire, old and new. Their relationship with Naxos which began in 2005 has been a significant one with regards to new works.

Interesting collaborations with Nashville artists have included the commissioned triple concerto for bango, double bass and tabla from Edgar Meyer. Béla Fleck and Zakir Hussain.

We talk agitatedly about music education, we both seem to have much passion for this topic. Even before I left university armed with a teaching certificate, I was convinced I would be a proponent of a well-rounded education with the focus on music and technology. My post graduate research was in “ Interactive multimedia performance techniques and the effects of new technology on education”. Xenovibes, the show I conceptualised in 2004 is all about conjoining ancient art with the new technology and being a conduit for new music generation for the new generation.

Valentine serves on the music education subcommittee of the music council in Nashville. During one of these meetings, the Director of the sub committee professed that, “The evidence is already here, 96% of the kids enrolled in music in the urban school system graduate from high school and 85% go to college and you can’t say that about anything else in the whole school system.”

Valentine tells me that music education has been slowly eroding with less time and resources being devoted to this in schools, “Others in the community have had to pick up the slack. Academic performance and graduation rates are affected by a strong music education program. But if you look at the last 30 years, all of the scores have slid down. They keep pulling more and more of the music education program out.”

A curriculum to include music, art and physical education helps kids understand the value of life-long learning. “In math the answer is right or wrong, in music and sport the gold is to be better than I was yesterday, (our children need to have ingrained in them the understanding) it’s the journey not the destination.”

Having been the fortunate recipient of a well rounded education, I am more than an avid supporter of this maxim. My parents were prime suspects in the pursuit of such a lifestyle for themselves and their children. My schedule of activities as a toddler had to include the practice of chinese calligraphy, painting, music, sports, languages and more. I remember being put through formal art classes and being handed a box of acrylics the kind that, if my memory serves me right, were rhombus shaped but slightly askewed. You know, the “professional” kind. I was overjoyed to received such a beautiful box of “crayons” and could not wait to attend class. The first thing my teacher did was break my “crayons” in half. I wailed uncontrollably – my toy was broken! I was too young to appreciate the finer points in the art of drawing. Thanks to my father, who was an architect and a painter, and who continued to push my “visual” acuity I embraced multimedia later in life with no hesitation. My early introduction to math and geometry, and sculpture (thanks to my grandfather who started me on plasticine clay) prepared me for 3D animation which I took to like a duck to water, and this was when we had to key in co-ordinates and the such. I declare I am a student of life-long learning.

Valentine’s mission is to create a way to increase investment by the schools in the music education program. When I asked if he might move again or if he might call the 3rd Coast his home. He tells me there are still challenges ahead, exciting new ones. They are talking to the city about the new development (they own a piece of land close to the new convention center) and how to create more major summer outdoor concerts for revenue potential and to reinvigorate the schools with music education programs.

When I ask him about running an institution such as the Nashville Symphony Association and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Valentine recommends not relying on a system, such as the government which can also be at risk in this type of economy, that depends heavily on philanthropy. When such a big source is cut it creates problems difficult to overcome.

And despite the way the economy is presently (2009/2010), he feels the future for music is bright. “At the end of the day, music is what really matters and when people care for it deeply, it is food for our souls. If there’s no hope you can’t fix the other problems.”

I propose that “Music not English is the universal language” and musicians the ambassadors of the world. Alan Valentine nods while Tom laughs in agreement.

Musicians are indeed citizens of the world and we have a responsibility. This sheila is by no means through wandering, it is after all the journey not the destination that has made Nashville; a journey into the 3rd coast such an inspiring one.

Read Nashville; a Prelude to a journey into the 3rd coast for a list of list of videos on my YouTube Oceanachine channel and articles about my week-long trip to uncover the diverse nature of the music scene in the music city.

Video Clip : Alan Valentine CEO-President Nashville Symphony

Photos & videos (c) 2009 Shueh-li Ong (unless specified, all articles written by Shueh-li Ong bear the photography, videography and digital work of its author.) Thank you Tom Brislin for assisting me in the video recording of the dream-sequence portion of the video that accompanies this article ‘It’s the journey not the destination, Mr Valentine.’

3rd coast • alan d valentine • music city • music education • nashville symphony • running an artistic institution • schermerhorn symphony center • well rounded education •
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