"It will never be easy," Muni said. "What we're doing is like a mission."
In fact, financial hardship has been no impediment to the orchestra's growth. Starting with one performance in 1982, it will hold 20 concerts this season. It has performed Mozart, Wagner and Bizet in school auditoriums from Millville to Cherry Hill.
The average attendance so far this year is 450 people, a drop of about 100
from the 1985-86 season. However, the director attributes the difference to a smaller advertising budget and the greater number of concerts.
Muni prides himself on bringing live classical music to South Jersey's suburbs and rural backlands. "The majority of our audiences don't attend concerts often," he said. "Either they live too far away or they can't afford it."
The orchestra, which employs professional free-lance musicians, has an operating budget of $220,000 for the 1986-87 season. Of this, $50,000 comes
from the New Jersey Council on the Arts.
It has not been easy for Muni to eke out minimal grants from the five county governments. In the area, one of its closest competitors for funds is the Haddonfield Symphony Orchestra, which has a long tradition in Camden County.
Last year, Camden County gave $1,000 to South Jersey Symphony; it has yet to pledge support this year. Gloucester County, where the orchestra is based, gave $6,000. However, that amount also is uncertain this season.
"It's not what I consider an essential service," Gloucester County Freeholder Paul Oland said of the orchestra. Short on revenues, the county may be forced to reduce significantly or forgo a contribution to the orchestra this year, he told Muni last week.
However, Muni, a Pitman resident who studied conducting at the University of Wisconsin and the Juilliard School of Music, remains upbeat.
"The freeholders have been very supportive. I know they'd like to support culture," he said. "Fund-raising is always difficult."
It is even more difficult perhaps in South Jersey where, according to Muni, ''there aren't that many millionaires."
However, the orchestra, which also performs in Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean Counties, has found abundant support at the grass-roots level. The South Jersey Symphony Orchestra League includes representatives from volunteer committees that plan each concert. In this way, people who attend the concerts can directly affect the programs.
"The orchestra belongs to the people who come to the concerts," said Muni.
As inducement to its subscribers, the orchestra will offer them a free pops concert at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City on March 8.