Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Bright Outlook for Classical Music.....It Is Bright, Isn't It?

On the footsteps of several articles about reasons for classical music's newfound success and hipness, more are writing about the rosy situation, including Anthony Tommasini's A Patience to Listen, Alive and Well in the NY Times and John von Rhein's article about WFMT's Steve Robinson in the Chicago Tribune.

Is this the beginning of a golden age or another case of irrational exuberance?

One of the main things to take into account is that it's still really, really difficult to earn a solid living as a performing artist. Musicians still suffer from a lack of respect and recognition of the work they put into their playing through practice and preparation, as some rather insensitive comments (since retracted) by Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra board chairman Jim van Vleck would seem to imply:

I really do respect our musicians, but there's something about a 37-week year and 20 hours a week that doesn't seem too onerous.

Unfortunately, the JSO's collective bargaining has not yet reached an agreement and the orchestra has been locked out for several weeks now.

My biggest fear for 2008 is that the JSO management's style of bargaining (if you can call it that) will be replicated by other institutions in the zeal of administrators and boards to apply standard retail business models to a profession that is anything but a standard retail industry.

Consider the following questions:

1. Why should orchestral musicians make $40,000 a year for what is essentially a part-time job?
2. Why should teachers at post-secondary institutions (essentially front-line retail workers) have any say in who gets hired for teaching positions?
3. If retail workers make a maximum of around $15 per hour, why shouldn't orchestral musicians make something comparable, with management and executives making the higher salaries since they run the organization?
4. If retail workers are for the most part interchangeable, shouldn't music teachers be interchangeable as well, as long as they are adequately trained and supervised by managers?
5. If a musician plays on radio or television, what right have they to expect compensation for repeat broadcasts or internet play if they've already been paid for their time in the studio?
6. Why should music teachers be actually employed by the institutions that employ them, if schools can utilize a much more efficient business model by taking them on as "self-employed contractors" and forgoing the need to hire an expensive human resources department?

I fully expect that these questions will raise the ire of any responsible musician that reads them. However, if you're going to perform or teach in the next ten years, you damn well better have good arguments prepared to counter these questions, which are being debated as we speak. Consider #4, which is already the case for many branded early childhood education franchises. And regarding #6--only a small percentage of private music schools and programs in Canada actually hire their faculty as employees (I'm honored to be teaching at one of them).

The classical music world has already lost a lot of its brightest stars to other professions in their quest to make a decent living. If there isn't the financial incentive for young graduates to enter the profession, fewer and fewer people will be willing to go the distance to generate a career, and classical music will indeed die a slow and agonizing death.

No comments:

Post a Comment