the end of the ball era?

I have remarked before on what society was in Philadelphia and what wants to be society today and the fact that it all seems to be going kerplunk. Well I think this article that broke news everywhere and I saw first in the Philadelphia Inquier is yet another example.

End of an era? The Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball will go on hiatus.

by Peter Dobrin, Updated: February 14, 2020- 12:06 PM

The Oscar de la Renta and James Galanos gowns can take the year off. White-tie and tails may stay in the garment bag. Next season’s Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball has been canceled, organizers say.

Instead, leaders of the Academy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which owns the historic venue, will take a year off to rethink the concert and ball. It is not clear when, or if, the ball will be back in the format that made it the city’s premier society event for decades.

“We are going to take this pause and evaluate,” said Academy chair Caroline B. “Cackie” Rogers. “Our net and our gross have been going down, and ticket sales have gone down a bit, and costs, like everything else, have gone up.”

Also, Academy and orchestra leaders are aware of how philanthropic priorities have shifted toward social causes over pure arts and culture.

“The younger generation tends to be sticking a little bit more close to home in the suburbs and supporting their children’s school, which is fabulous, and supporting their community and hospital,” Rogers says. “So we have to make people understand what we are. The Academy is above all a community gathering place, a community center. We support education. And somehow we need to get this message out in a stronger format.”

Rogers said that a working committee would begin considering the ball’s future at a meeting in March. At this point, she said, she cannot say whether Philadelphia will see another Academy Ball.

I think this is indeed quite possibly the end of The Academy Ball. People have changed and the grande dames of society are growing older and so many have passed away. Truthfully there is my generation as one of the last generations to just remember what it was like, but real society doesn’t truly exist anymore in Philadelphia does it? (And many can plunk hats and fascinators on their carefully and not so carefully coiffed heads but does it make them society or just wannabes?)

Philadelphia Inquirer, 1970s – what the society page looked like

I remember when I noticed that Opening Night for the Philadelphia Orchestra was getting too “corporate” in nature. I remember when people started bringing in drinks in plastic cups into the boxes and the seats and that was never done before. When there was intermission, you mingled in the hallways of the Academy of Music and you got drinks from the bar but you didn’t bring things into the theater space like you were at a movie theater.

The world continued to change. Society reporters began to fade away, retire, move, die. Society photos changed to and suddenly it was acceptable to shove your way into a photo or say you wanted to be in a photo, versus waiting to be asked. And everything, even if it wasn’t, was suddenly called a “ball”.

I grew up with my parents attending the Academy Ball, and for a bunch of years my mother was on the committees. It has been too long to remember if it was for the program book committee , invitation committee, or whatever. But what I do remember is all the bustle surrounding my mother and her friends finding their perfect gowns and getting ready for the big event. I liked that part of it a lot. Visits to Nan Duskin, John Wanamaker’s, and elsewhere.

What I also liked is the years they were all in the program book (Academy Ball Book) with their friends. That program book for the Academy of Music Concert and Ball was awesome every year. It was a look book of Philadelphia society and fashion. I loved going through it. Somewhere I have a stack of them from my mother, I went to look for them when I was thinking about this post but I have not unearthed them yet. It was always a really big deal to be invited to be in an Academy Ball Book photo.

There was one year in particular my parents were in it that I remember distinctly. They were photographed in black tie on the steps of City Hall in Philadelphia. My mother had a different haircut for her and I think it was the 70s when she had this haircut, it was sort of pixie like for lack of a better description because my mother has very full hair. But I remember my mother had this amazing ball gown on and it was sweeping over the steps with my father at her side. (I really have to find that photo because it is one of my favorite photos of my parents together.)

Then around 1998, I had my turn to pose in a photograph in the Academy Ball Book. This mother of a friend of mine back then used to buy a page for their business as a donation in the program book. So this one year, I was invited to be in the photo. It was a lot of fun we got our hair done the morning of the shoot and professional make-up and then we went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Philadelphia where the shoot location was.

Doing that shoot, is still to this day, hands down one of the most fun things I ever did! (Of course it’s amusing that I am posing with a glass of red wine in my hand because I am very allergic to red wine.) I still have a tiny 3 or 4 inch black-and-white test photo of this shoot in a little frame. My friend and I were temporarily glamorous.

I did not ever actually go to the Academy Ball as an adult because I married later in life and it always has been a very ridiculously expensive ticket prospect if you were single. I did go a couple of times as a kid with my sister to the concerts because my parents wanted us to hear whatever the concert part of the ball was. One of the years was when Pavarotti played the concert of the 118th Academy Ball. I still remember that. My parents had a car and driver and someone who came to escort us down.

We sat stage left up in the second level or third level boxes on that side. I remember peering down and watching Pavarotti sing. It probably should have meant more to me at the time than it did, but I was a kid. However, it was so fun to get all dressed up and then look around the entire inside of the glittering and glowing Academy of Music and see all of the people in their white tie and tails and ballgowns.

Every year until a few years ago, truthfully I loved looking at the Academy Ball photos. As the crowd changed and a lot of the familiar faces faded away for whatever reason, it became less interesting to me. The past couple of years I have taken a cursory glance every now and again at the photos and there are people in the photos that wouldn’t have even received an invitation years ago, and then there are the people we just weren’t dressed correctly. There are even people with short dresses. This was a real actual ball which meant white tie and tails and ballgowns.

I took a peek at a program book in the last year or so and one of the things that surprised me is there was somebody that was in two photos in the same book. They never used to do that! They never had repeat people in photos in the same book during the same year.

It makes me sad that events like this are becoming nonprofit dinosaurs. But I guess too much is changing in the world around us, and it’s not going to stand still for events like this. So this event will either evolve and change, or remain mothballed. I am thinking mothballed.

But this was a big event for the Academy of Music’s benefit. So it had to give you pause if you think about it as to how they are going to make up the money that needs to be raised. The Academy of Music is a national historic landmark but I’m told it needs work. A lot of the titans of philanthropy that used to support the Academy are dead.

I have to wonder in the age of selfie sticks and Insta stories if there is enough interest to really see the Academy of Music into the future? Do people today really care about the arts in Philadelphia in the region? Or is what they care about more selective, more localized?

Time will tell.