Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yesterday's Epic Conversation on Twitter

This is what Twitter is all about: yesterday evening @timtfj, @ericasipes, and I (@chrisfoley) had a lengthy conversation about orchestras, cultural elitism, government cultural support, and arts voting. We were typing away so furiously that we only realized later that we forgot to hashtag the conversation for easier retrieval. When I checked Twitter again this morning, I had discovered that several people were interested in reading the conversation in its entirety, and thanks to an eloquent search by @Eridanus, I was able to retrieve the conversation, highlights of which are below.

ericasipes: @timtfj Just heard opera American opera singer who has worked in Germany for 20 years talk about benefits of being musician there...

ericasipes: @timtfj ...quite phenomenal, really. I couldn't really even comprehend or believe it. But perhaps I shouldn't be jealous...

ericasipes: @timtfj ...I imagine there r some disadvantages 2 living in a society that supports musicians/arts, right? ;-)

timtfj: @ericasipes I do know from professional players that orchestras in Germany get far more rehearsal time than the British ones do bc of it...

timtfj: @ericasipes ... but Britain seems to be famous for good sightreading, since there's so little rehearsal time. I know I was surprised once

ericasipes: @timtfj One thing that amazed me was that each regional area has their own opera house/company. And within each house, they sometimes...

ericasipes: @timtfj several productions a week, many of them premieres. Now I have 2 admit that I wouldn't necessarily b comfortable with a lot...

timtfj: @ericasipes to discover that amateur chamber musicians here seemed to have a higher standard of sightreading than someone who'd been

ericasipes: @timtfj of the far-out interpretations they do there...some of the things this singer has had 2 do is pretty unbelievable!

timtfj: @ericasipes to music coll in Germany. So the disadvantage is that they don't do as much sightreading, I think. ;-)

timtfj: @ericasipes It's interesting though. And people in those countries tend to be more clued-up in general about music.

ericasipes: @timtfj That's a really interesting observation/connection. Makes sense.

chrisfoley: @ericasipes @timtfj Following your conversation with interest.

timtfj: @ericasipes I was startled---if we play chamber mmusic it's taken for granted that everyone can sightread a Haydn quartet, say

timtfj: @ericasipes ... I can't remember what the music was, but this lady was having a lot of trouble sightreading it and we were the amateurs!

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes What's the situation in Canada? (In terms of public support etc.)

ericasipes: @timtfj So with these Proms that are just is that all supported? I'm assuming there must b quite a bit of government support.

ericasipes: @timtfj I was floored by the low cost of tickets, the frequency of concerts, the high caliber artists, all that. I truly find it shocking.

ericasipes: @timtfj I could be missing something, but I don't think we have anything in the US that compares. It also seems 2 me that there is a lot...

timtfj: @ericasipes I'm not sure, to be honest. I assume a lot is from the BBC licence fee, but I think there are corporate sponosrs too...

ericasipes: @timtfj of pride behind the Proms. I can't imagine that happening here, either. Sigh.

timtfj: @ericasipes ... I think @rolytaylor might know, if he's still tweeting.

ericasipes: @timtfj I don't think we could get enough corporate sponsors here to make it happen. Do British corporations sponsor sports the way...

ericasipes: @timtfj they do here?

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes The Ontario provincial gov't supports the arts quite substantially, with an emphasis on infrastructure funding.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes Sadly, the BC gov't has recently gutted most of its arts funding.

timtfj: @ericasipes Yes, I think there is a lot of pride in them---they seem to be pretty well unique worldwide, which also makes them something

timtfj: @ericasipes which it's considered an honour to play in.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes Many arts org's in Canada rely on 3 levels of gov't funding: federal, provincial and municipal + private donations.

timtfj: @ericasipes Not an area I know a lot about, not being a follower of sports, but there seems to be a lot of that sort of sponsorship.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes Juggling finances based on multiple sources of private and public revenue is the name of the game for arts org's.

ericasipes: @chrisfoley @timtfj So I'm guessing that arts organizations are doing a bit of rethinking on how 2 support themselves, like we are here?

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes Everyone's cutting everything ATM. I think the arts are MORE important when unemployment's going up...

chrisfoley: @ericasipes @timtfj Yes, but you have to realize that for the most part CDN arts org's haven't nearly been hit as hard as those in the US.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes ... Standard of living isn't as important as quality of life, and the arts contribute to the latter.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes Fortunately, that fact is understood by the Ontario government, I think.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes That's the same here. Get whatever support they can from wherever they can. (Amateur orch's are the ones I know abt)

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes In TO, the arts vote is sizeable (esp. in the center + E of the city), so politicians cut programs at their own risk.

ericasipes: @chrisfoley @timtfj This is all so good 2 hear & try 2 understand. So it sounds like the Canadian government sees value in arts in general.

timtfj: @ericasipes @chrisfoley Doing that while watching the gov. plans with dread, I think.

chrisfoley: @ericasipes @timtfj Not necessarily. The federal gov't is conservative, and often gives for political reasons.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes For example, the Conservatives often give generously to TO arts org's because they want the votes.

ericasipes: @chrisfoley @timtfj That is just such a foreign a concept 2 me, 2 think of politicians thinking twice about cutting arts programs.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes The Quebec +Ontario gov't's are extremely supportive of the arts, BC much less.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes The new gov's attitude seems to be "if people want it they'll pay for it, so it's OK not to support it" :-(

ericasipes: @chrisfoley @timtjf ...I don't think that would happen here. The arts barely even show up on a politician's radar.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes Now that's interesting. Here businesses will do it as good publicity, but not politicians for votes.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes "Arts vote" isn't a phrase I've ever heard in this country!

chrisfoley: @ericasipes @timtfj The arts economy is as big as $25B per year in Canada, and probably 5-10x bigger than that in the US.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes That economic clout just needs to translate into voting clout if it's identified and organized properly.

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes I think less rehearsal time => more exposure to new pieces, i.e. There's as much playing, but more of it is concerts.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes It's about time that "Arts Vote" entered the vocabulary in the US.

ericasipes: @frindley @timtfj @chrisfoley I'll have 2 add that study 2 my list of sight-reading research topics. ;-)

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes I can believe that. I think one or two rehearsals is more typical.

chrisfoley: @ericasipes @timtfj Think of it this way: where else would you see funding spent so efficiently compared to big

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes Probably any correlation actually comes from the different teaching emphases in music colleges.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes There's almost no fat in an arts org's budget. They need to account for every penny most of the time.

chrisfoley: @timtj @ericasipes What's more, much gov't funding is payable right back to gov't's anyway, through income and sales taxes.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes I'd say "and the UK", but there's a sort of anti-culture culture here and many would happily vote against the arts

frindley: @timtfj @ericasipes In Australia the orchestras typically have 5 rehearsal calls per program. And we hold our own in sightreading.

timtfj: @chrisfoley @ericasipes since anything "cultural" is considered elitist and hence a waste of money. This is not good.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes Elitist? Wasteful? What about municipal gov't's spending tens of millions of dollars on unprofitable sports teams?

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes Oh I know---I had an Australian friend who was here on a course for music teachers ...

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes ... the difference I'm aware of is between Britain and continental Europe, really. (5 rehearsals is amazing though)

ericasipes: @chrisfoley @timtfj Exactly what I was going 2 say! But the problem is, sports is profitable...very profitable.

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes But... If the rehearsal is the first time anyone sees the music and the concert is that evening... it's sightreading.

timtfj: @frindley @ericasipes That's a typical scenario, and people are expected to be able to play the notes straight away.

ericasipes: @chrisfoley @timtfj Colleges here spend so much time & energy 2 pump up their sports programs simply 2 get alumni 2 donate more money...

ericasipes: @chrisfoley the college, which is then put back into the sports teams. It must be profitable, right?

ericasipes: @timtfj @chrisfoley I find that so frustrating & disheartening. I know there r folks in the classical music world that might be elitist...

chrisfoley: @ericasipes It probably depends on the school. College infrastructure can be enormously expensive, no matter how much revenue is coming in.

ericasipes: @timtfj @chrisfoley ...but there are many of us that aren't. I don't play because I want 2 get rich, I do it because I love music.

chrisfoley: @ericasipes @timtfj Agreed. Going into music is generally a terrible career choice in terms of earning potential.

timtfj: @ericasipes @chrisfoley I don't understand the "it's elitist" attitude at all. I like music because I like it, and that's all there is to it

ericasipes: @chrisfoley I also think that sports, especially in colleges, gets 2 be a bit of an addiction 4 everyone involved. Current stud., alum...

ericasipes: @chrisfoley ...townspeople...our town practically comes 2 a halt on gamedays. Same with my comes 2 a halt then too ;-)

timtfj: @ericasipes @chrisfoley Gov. attitude is basically: only things which make money are worth spending money on. (Hence big science cuts too.)

timtfj: @ericasipes @chrisfoley The idea that some things are of value in themselves doesn't seem to occur to them. Money is the ONLY value.

ericasipes: @timtfj @chrisfoley All right,I think I better sign off since I promised not 2 work tonight ;-) But thank u so much 4 the gr* conversation.

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes Agreed. And if gov't's would take a look at the facts and realize just how large the arts +culture industry is....

chrisfoley: @timtfj @ericasipes ...and how efficiently their money is spent in arts +culture, they would think twice about cutting programs.

chrisfoley: @ericasipes Likewise - have a great evening.

timtfj: @ericasipes @chrisfoley And I'd better go because of the time! Nice chatting though :-)

chrisfoley: @timtfj Have a great evening!

timtfj: @chrisfoley Thanks! It's currently 3 am in the evening ;-) (All the philosophers went to bed, then all the musicians came online.)


  1. Interesting conversation! Nice international insights.

    Chiming in: while being able to sightread is a valuable and powerful skill, the fact that UK musicians are *forced* to be able to sightread like demons *because there's no money to pay for rehearsals* cannot be considered a positive thing. Giving musicians time to go into their programmes in depth can bring incredible benefits in terms of expression.

    Also: the current economic problems clearly highlight the superiority of state arts sponsoring v. private. Look at the drastic cuts (goodbye corporate sponsors) in the US costing jobs and putting so many in such difficulty. Compare that to fewer cuts in Canada and especially Germany, where mixed state/private financing models prevail.

  2. What a totally annoying way to read a conversation Tweeting is.

    One of the biggest differences in arts funding in the US and Germany is that in German, programs for the young (say, 5-15) are taken very seriously.

    I go to every opera company website in Germany every year looking to see if they're doing anything worth traveling for and I'm knocked out at how every house, big or small, has programs for kids, usually stuff like a shortened Magic Flute.

    But there's also an entire repertoire of operas for kids that is never recorded or performed for all-adult audiences. The kids get their own rep in addition to the usual Wagner, Weber, Verdi and so forth. I've been to operas all over Germany and there's always a good % of kids in the audience, because a) opera and symphony is just another form of entertainment and b) tickets are cheap compared to British and US houses.