A Thought: Why Does Sarajevo Need a Youth Orchestra?

Fuad Šetić, 2020

Uncited opinions and views in the text are the personal views of the author; furthermore, it is possible that at the time of publishing this post the author did not have all the information related to this topic.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a collage of two photos shared on social media by friends, colleagues, and acquaintances very often: a professional symphony orchestra in one photo and a children’s orchestra in the other. All with the caption “If you want to have this (professional orchestra) … Then you have to have this (children’s orchestra)”. And I almost reflexively shared that photo once, without over-analyzing it. However, as it usually happens, important things are always kept in mind, so I started thinking about orchestras that perform art music in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and especially those in Sarajevo.

Source: Facebook page ‘Music for the Many’, March 2019

The data provided by the Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2019 shows that in 2018 there were 26 active orchestras in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Agencija za statistiku BiH, 2019). Unfortunately, the data doesn’t offer insight in the profile of orchestras counted, so this number includes amateur folk orchestras, orchestras that exist with educational institutions, and professional orchestras that perform art music, but also orchestras that perform other genres.

According to written data (almost a decade old), but also the testimonies of many composers, musicologists, musicians, and ballet dancers I have collected – the Sarajevo Philharmonic is the only professional symphony orchestra in Sarajevo (some say in the country) that offers permanent employment to artists and is financed from the budget of the Sarajevo Canton, however, it also meets the needs of the Opera and Ballet of the National Theater in Sarajevo (Itano, 2010; Gojer, 2011). Due to this, I dare say, inhumane treatment of the Sarajevo Philharmonic, none of these three Sarajevo ensembles works even close to the standards we see in Western Europe, Asia, or the Americas – when it comes to the repertoire, number of performances, tours, guest appearances, etc. Here, of course, I emphasise that these are orchestras that perform the so-called Western classical music.

Of course, there have been attempts to establish other ensembles of this type before, but for some reason, none of them survived.

Here I will make one medium-long… I mean a long digression:

Bosnia and Herzegovina, as I see it, has been a country in a perpetual transition, and as Pajić (2007) suggests it still deals with post-war reconstruction in this century: both nationally and internationally (in Balasz, 2008: 99). The reconstruction has been, to a large extent, hampered by several factors including brain drain, high unemployment rate, and other socio-cultural and political tensions (ibid). Although this data is 13 years old, every citizen of Bosnia who reads it will agree that Bosnia and Herzegovina still has this problem today.

Furthermore, the data suggests that in October 2018 the number of people registered as unemployed reached the number of 426 (Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2018a). Additionally, data provided by the World Bank shows that Bosnia and Herzegovina ranks as the second in the youth unemployment with 47.4% of the youth aged 15 to 24 classified as unemployed (The World Bank, 2019). Narrowing this down to Sarajevo Canton, it is evident that in total 62 561, or 14.27% of the population, is registered as unemployed (Kremić, 2019). 11.38% of those are youth under 25 years, and 32.02% are under 35 years of age (Služba za zapošljavanje Kantona Sarajevo, 2019). The high unemployment rate is one of the main reasons for the massive brain drain that Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing; the country has been labelled as the one with the highest percentage of highly-educated emigrants in Europe (World Bank Group, 2019). It has been highlighted that the number of young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina is constantly decreasing: dropping from over a million to just above 700 000 in the last 25 years (Osmić, 2019). Here, we can see that the link between work and successful integration of the young people to the society that some authors point out (Klemenčić Rozman and Dekleva, 2007; Koller Trbović, 2009), is weakened and almost non-existent in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Osmić, 2019). A survey conducted in 2019 showed that only 15% of the youth aged 14 to 29 stated they have a full-time job (ibid.). According to Ule (2000), contemporary societies are established on the values of work and employment, thus making the unemployed and especially youth marginalised and stigmatised (in Koller Trbović, 2009), even though this group is regarded as the vital part of the population, without whom the economy and the society, in general, couldn’t further evolve (Hadžimahmutović and Martić, 2013). A bit of a paradox, isn’t it?

Sadly, at this moment, there is no data on musicians of any genre in any of the categories mentioned earlier, suggesting that proper research is needed in this specific area, but we can assume that similar findings would arise if we had musicians as a sample.

When I conducted a survey regarding work opportunities for professional (classical) musicians in Sarajevo in January this year, I found the following:

1. The majority of surveyed subjects (81.63%) weren’t employed full time;

2. Similarly, the majority of subjects (77.55%) stated they are still students, with smaller groups identifying as freelance/session musician (6.12%), performing artist (9.09%), music or instrument teacher at any level (16.32%), and “Other” including unemployed, and intern (10.20%). It is important to highlight that multiple options could be chosen.

3. 71.42% of the subjects stated their ideal job would be to work as a performing artist, with 23.64% striving for the freelance career and 28.58% choosing music education as the ideal career.

4. When asked about general employment of musicians in Sarajevo, 65.30% of the subjects stated that most of the musicians they were acquainted with are “unhappy in general”, and 12.06% said that most of their musician acquaintances would change their job. 23.64% said that most of the musicians they know are generally happy with their jobs.

5. 48.97% of the subjects said they would leave the country without a second thought if they were offered a job they wanted, and 38.77% stated they would leave but only after careful planning. This shows that 87.74% would leave Bosnia and Herzegovina, contributing to the brain drain of highly-educated profiles identified in the World Bank research mentioned earlier. None of the subjects stated they were happy with the current situation.

6. The question on the number of available internships for musicians in Sarajevo showed that only 4.08% of the subjects thought that there isn’t a lack of those places for young musicians. 79.60% stated that there is a lack, with 16.32% stating they weren’t knowledgeable on the subject.

7. Unanimously, subjects who answered this question (97.95% of the total sample), agreed that new investments in music scene and infrastructure in Sarajevo are needed.

8. When asked how many professional orchestras should there be in Sarajevo, 6.12% said that one orchestra of this profile is enough. 36.73% agreed that there should be at least two orchestras. 24.48% voted three, while 32.65% of the subjects voted more than three orchestras.

These results, regardless of the small number of subjects (49), could serve as a sample of general opinion among this demographic.

Youth Orchestra

Having this data in mind, a proposed business would be a local level youth orchestra in Sarajevo, which would serve as a transition ground from education to later employment. This initial model could be later adopted in other cities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To some point similar programme can be found in Venezuela – El Sistema (in the past Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra [Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar], and today Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra), or in Great Britain (National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain).

This hypothetical youth orchestra would be a multi-sided platform, which is defined as an organisation that creates value by enabling direct contact and interactions between two or more customer groups (Hagiu and Wright, 2015). This model would primarily be a version of a ‘talent incubator’ for young professionals at the beginning of their careers, but also an employment hub, dealing with the employment of musicians exclusively. Secondarily, it would work as a classical music provider service. Therefore, on one hand as ‘customers’ or ‘consumers’ we have the audience, and on the other hand we have other professional orchestras.

As an ‘employment hub’, the orchestra wouldn’t be just the link between education and employment of young musicians, but for a limited time would be their job. Two major areas of dissatisfaction between young musicians who complete their courses have been identified (Ridgeway, 2002):

1. First is that they feel they haven’t been adequately equipped to cope with the everyday life of a professional musician.

2. Second is the void between their current standard and the standard required by the profession, especially in terms of orchestral techniques.

Although this study dealt with British musicians, there are other studies that show that the same, or similar, areas of dissatisfaction between young musicians are present in other parts of the world.

While tackling those issues, this platform would strive to offer enough income for the musicians to live a decent life. Furthermore, by resolving those issues, young musicians would enter the wider orchestral marketplace as competitive individuals. Customers, in this case, are the orchestras in which young musicians would work eventually. 

Going back to the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina has only one orchestra, which besides its symphonic repertoire acts as an opera orchestra and ballet orchestra (Gojer, 2011), led by the logic, one could conclude that their offer as a music provider service isn’t regular or rich. Having another orchestra could be beneficial for the artistic scene and create a rivalry, which could encourage both orchestras to make the best music they can. This is backed up by the suggestion that competition is the driving force of the market (Medlin and Ellegaard, 2015).

Referring to the literature review at the beginning of this text, it is evident that a business like this would greatly contribute to solving several problems in Sarajevo, and later if proven successful in the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina. First, it would contribute to lowering the number of unemployed (or unhappily employed) musicians, but also other professions needed for the survival of a business of this profile such as lawyers, accountants, musicologists, PR, etc. By resolving the problem of unemployment on the local level, it could lower the percentage of highly-educated emigrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is a lot of very talented musicians I know who had to leave the country: guitarists, accordionists, violinists, singers, pianists… and there are a lot more that I don’t personally know.  Finally, by its structure and activity, this model perfectly meets some of the goals of the Strategy of Cultural Policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Spahić et al., 2008).

This is the part when after all this text we all think: ‘Well if the solution is another orchestra, why not just form an Opera Orchestra or a Ballet Orchestra? Why youth?’

The answer is, at least in my opinion, simple: quality! The Opera and Ballet Orchestras are certainly both necessary, but the youth orchestra is an opportunity for young musicians to continue developing in a “safe environment” after they graduate, play additional repertoire, become competitive, all while being financially secure. Furthermore, the members of the youth orchestra could play in the Sarajevo Philharmonic, but also in other orchestras (if and) when they are founded in the future; In that case, the Sarajevo Philharmonic would not be torn between three different repertoires, Opera and Ballet would get their orchestra(s), which would ultimately provide the basic conditions for the work of these Sarajevo ensembles, and their future members would be already experienced orchestral players.

This business model is flexible, the offer it can make is diverse, and the existence of a youth orchestra can generally only contribute to the artistic and cultural scene of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Precisely because of all of the above, but also for many other reasons that I (intentionally or unintentionally) left out, I decided to, found a youth orchestra in Sarajevo, with the help of few young enthusiasts. The orchestra already had its debut performance last year, but with the start of this year, unfortunately, we had to stop working. Preparations for the final registration of this association have been completed, some future collaborations have already been booked, work is underway to solve the funding problem… Now we are just waiting for some happier and safer times when we will all be able to create art together.


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Agencija za statistiku Bosne i Hercegovine (2019). Kultura i umjetnost. Sarajevo: Agencija za statistiku Bosne i Hercegovine. Available from: http://www.bhas.ba/data/Publikacije/Bilteni/2019/CUL_00_2018_TB_0_BS.pdf [Accesed on 29 October 2020]

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Gojer, G. (2011). ‘Intervju s Gradimirom Gojerom, direktorom Narodnog pozorišta Sarajevo’, interviewed by BIRN for BalkanInsight, 7 June. Available from: https://balkaninsight.com/2011/06/07/intervju-s-gradimirom-gojerom-direktorom-narodnog-pozorista-sarajevo/ [Accesed on 29 October 2020]

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Itano, N. (2010). Can the Sarajevo Philharmonic Hang On? Public Radio International, 30 May. Available from: https://www.pri.org/stories/2010-02-22/can-sarajevo-philharmonic-hang [Accesed on 29 October 2020]

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Koller-Trbović, N. (2009). Nezaposlenost u doživljaju i iskustvu nezaposlenih mladih u Hrvatskoj. Ljetopis socijalnog rada, Volume 16, Number 1, pp.91–110. Available from: https://hrcak.srce.hr/35434  [Accesed on 29 October 2020]

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