Timing is Everything

The weekend’s best juxtaposition: Joseph Horowitz calls on orchestral musicians to accept part-time orchestra jobs, citing as an example the old days in Minneapolis, when players “had ample spare time to earn money in other ways,” on the same day the Daniel Wakin reports on how those other ways are drying up.

It also strikes me that Horowitz’s description of “service conversion”—basically, switching out orchestral players’ paid rehearsals and performances for paid outreach and education—is just a privatizing shell game. Orchestral outreach is a substitute for public education, filling the gap left when schools and districts, squeezed because people don’t want to pony up the necessary tax revenue and boxed in by funding agencies’ ridiculous love affair with math and science and high-stakes testing, toss the arts overboard—and, with it, the ecosystem of school and private teaching that supports it. In other words, “service conversion” means that orchestral players will be, in essence, using their own part-time salaries to subsidize those jobs that would supposedly supplement their part-time salaries. Fantastic.

One comment

  1. I also tire of this conversation. Musicians have enjoyed the “fat of the land” since the the middle of the 20th century, but back in the day orchestral musicians in Cleveland (yeah, under Szell) couldn't make enough of a living to support a family, and wages for people who played commercial jobs in New York were rather low. Musicians had to work all the time in order to make a living, and many orchestral musicians in smaller cities had to take summer jobs. But there was work.

    Eventually performing institutions got endowments, and through a succession of fortunate events, orchestral musicians who were top-notch players could find work in top-notch orchestras. A whole batch of second-tier orchestras started becoming more established, and musicians could at least make enough money to live from their second-tier orchestra jobs. Regional orchestras paid well enough to lure the next generations of great players from the big conservatories.

    The 1970s were years of great hope, and the recording biz was bopping, but eventually the recording business magically turned music from an activity into a thing. Something you buy.

    Before the fidelity of recorded music came near to the quality of the real live thing, people would get their musical fun from being in the very place that the music was being played. They would socialize at concerts, and they would enjoy the communal experience.

    That experience has now become largely a personal one, and most of us do most of our listening all alone through earbuds.

    We are experiencing a change in our way of life. Classical Music can't be given an imperitive to change anything, because it isn't a “thing” that can change. There's no “it.”

    Those of us who play, write, and listen will continue to play, write, and listen, but we will never regain the kind life that we (collectively) once had, unless a magnetic force comes close to the earth and wipes out all of our music-producing devices that require electricity.

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